One can influence people by lowering the pitch of one’s voice in the first moments of interaction, according to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. Lowering the pitch early on in a conversation makes people seem more dominant and influential than those who increased their pitch immediately, enabling the former to convince other people with their ideas.

However, lowering one’s voice does not necessarily beget more respect. Others are only influenced by an individual’s lowered pitch out of fear and intimidation.

Initially, the researchers studied 191 participants, ages 17 to 52. They videotaped the participants’ interactions within their groups where they ranked the importance of 15 items presented to them to survive a disaster on the moon.


Changes in vocal pitch coincided with dominance but not prestige. Credit: Pixabay/zstupar

They analysed the frequency of each word uttered as well as how one person’s own ranking influenced the group’s final ranking. The participants and others not included in the groupings described those who deepened their voices between their first and third utterances as more influential and dominant. On the other hand, those who were considered as prestigious were also influential but got more respect from the others.

“In fact, what we’ve found previously is that both of these strategies – prestige and dominance – positively correlate with behavioural influence,” says lead researcher Joey Cheng. “Both are effective pathways to getting there. But only dominance is about fear and intimidation, and only dominance is related in this study to changes in the pitch of one’s voice. How you change your voice does not appear to be related to how much respect you win.”

They conducted another experiment involving 274 participants, ages 15 to 61 years. This time, they had to listen to voice recordings of a person making three statements.

The researchers manipulated each recording, either increasing or decreasing the voice pitch between the first and third statements. The lowered voices did not gain more respect. However, the participants claimed that this speaker simply wants to sound more powerful, domineering and influential.

“What’s really fascinating about status is that regardless of which groups you look at and what culture and in what context, what inevitably happens is that people divide themselves into leaders and followers, and there’s a hierarchy that’s involved,” adds Cheng. “Our study adds to the evidence that humans, like many other animals, use their voices to signal and assert dominance over others.”