The question of hiring a female voice over talent vs. a male voice over talent has pretty much joined the ranks of other age-old debates. The topic has been covered by many, myself included (“Exploring the Decision to Hire Male vs. Female Voice-Over Talent”).
Despite the numerous discussions on the topic over the years, I felt there was still one angle that deserved a more intense look: the proven reasons behind the fact that people tend to trust female voices over male voices.
While my past blog touched briefly on the point, I wanted to more deeply explore why female voices tend to instill trust in the audience that can lead to a trust in a company, service or product and, ultimately, the buy. Here’s what I found.
Pitch and Inflection
To illustrate how quickly people determine if they can trust someone, University of Glasgow psychologist Phil McAleer ran an experiment. He recorded a batch of 64 men and women speaking, then had 320 participants listen to only the word “Hello” from the 64 voices.
The results? Female voices were deemed the most trustworthy for two main reasons.
- Pitch: The higher pitch of the female voice instilled more confidence in listeners than the lower-pitched male. One super-low-pitched male voice was overwhelming voted the least trustworthy of all.
- Inflection: Female voices that dropped at the end of a word or phrase indicated a degree of certainty, something that made people automatically trust them.
Soothing and Comforting Nature
A recent Harris Interactive poll found 46 percent of participants ranked female voices more soothing than male voices. Soothing voices can make people feel comfortable, and when people feel comfortable, they’re more inclined to trust.
Clearer, More Melodic
The clear, melodic nature of the female voice can also play a role in the trust it instills, as can the fact that female and male voices are processed in different parts of the brain. A University of Sheffield study found female voices are processed in the auditory region of the brain, the same area that processes music. Male voices are processed in the back of the brain in an area known as the “mind’s eye.”
The size and shape of the larynx and vocal cords between women and men make female voices more complex, yet still more easily “decoded” or understood. One interesting tidbit that underscores a female voice’s complexity is the fact that most auditory hallucinations contain a male voice. Study co-author Michael Hunter notes auditory hallucinations are thought to be caused by spontaneous brain activation, and it’s much tougher for the brain to mimic a female voice than a male one.
Are Our Brains Developed to Prefer a Female Voice?
Take any group of listeners, and you’ll find it may not be all that difficult to find a female voice that everyone enjoys. Finding a male voice everyone likes, however, can be a real challenge. Stanford University Professor Clifford Nass noted this fact, while pointing out the human brain is actually developed to like female voices.
Studies have found this preference can be traced as far back as the womb, where unborn babies reacted to the sound of their mother’s voice. They didn’t react to other women’s voices, nor did they react to their father’s voice.
Perceived as Helping, Not Commanding
If you haven’t already noticed, most digital assistants and navigation systems incorporate a female voice in their technology. Alexa, Siri, Cortana and the voice of Ooma are four immediate examples that come to mind. While there are several reasons female voices outweigh male voices for technological gadgets, one pointed out by Nass was particularly enlightening.
While people enjoy using technology to help them out, they also still want to feel as if they have some control in the process. Female voices tend to do just that, making the user feel as if the technology is helping them solve their problems.
Male voices, on the other hand, are perceived as commanding them what to do. The same mindset can apply to trusting the female voice to help you select the best product or service, rather than the male voice that simply commands you to buy it.
Females Are More Trusted in Person Too
It makes sense people would be more inclined to trust a female voice since they’re more inclined to trust a female in person. A management survey found this applied to CEOs, while business author Vanessa Hall found it to also be true for sales people. People are more inclined to trust, and follow, women CEOs over male CEOs. They are also more inclined to buy from those they trust, and they trust women sales people over their male colleagues.
Here the trust goes beyond just how women sound, but how they tend to act in a business environment. While male CEOs are often out for only the bottom line, women are more inclined to have more balance in their decision-making. They’ll consider the bottom line, sure, but they’ll also consider the impact of decisions on stakeholders, employees and the company as a whole.
Hall also points out that female leaders possess a more intuitive response to trust, along with an openness to change.
A study published in Harvard Business Review found women leaders ranked higher than men in 17 out of 19 categories that ranged from taking initiative to building relationships. The only categories where men ranked higher were technical or professional expertise and developing strategic perspective.
The higher-scoring leadership categories may also play a role in people’s readiness to trust a female voice.
All this doesn’t mean, of course, that a female voice-over talent is ALWAYS the ideal pick for your specific message, company or project. But it does mean you have at least six intriguing facts to consider when choosing between a male and female voice.
Whether it be for a radio or tv commercial, corporate narration or simple phone messaging system, you’ll want to give some consideration to these facts and information before deciding on which gender to choose for your project.
And, if you ultimately decide you want a female voice talent for your project, please give me a call or contact me online so we can talk about the details.
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