The big difference in tall people’s voices

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iol scitehc dec 4 Margaret Thatcher


File photo: Margaret Thatcher. Picture: Kirsty Wigglesworth

London - It may sound like a tall tale... but it is possible to gauge someone’s height just from listening to their voice.

Listeners can accurately determine the relative heights of speakers without even seeing them, research shows.

However, it is not simply a case of tall people having booming voices. Instead, it is thought that a particular sound known as the sub-glottal resonance, which deepens with height, helps us build a mental picture of someone.

This is despite it being “spoken over” by the various other sounds that make up speech.

Taller people generally have bigger lower airways, including lungs, and this extra space creates a deeper sound.

The US researchers recorded pairs of people of different heights as they read out identical sentences. They then played the tapes to listeners, who were asked to guess which of the two was the tallest. In a second experiment, listeners ranked five people from tallest to shortest, after hearing them read.

Despite not having any visual clues, they were able to distinguish the taller speaker almost two-thirds of the time. This is significantly more than would be expected through chance alone, the Acoustical Society of North America’s annual conference heard.

Researcher John Morton, of Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, said: “Both males and females were equally able to discriminate and rank the heights of talkers of both genders.”

Stature is not the only feature we infer from a voice. For instance, research shows that deep-voiced men are preferred by women and particularly when they are at their most fertile.

It is thought that females subconsciously make a link between the pitch of a man’s voice, his masculinity and the quality of his genes.

This may explain other studies which have shown that gravelly-toned men have the most children.

Studies also show we associate deep voices with leadership potential – perhaps explaining why Margaret Thatcher had vocal training to make her sound more statesmanlike.

On a similar note, British Labour leader Ed Miliband was forced to deny surgery to remove his adenoids was to make his voice less nasal and more attractive to the public. - Daily Mail

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