Hey, narcissists, here’s something you already know: You can get off on the sound of your own voice (sort of). A new study finds that people's emotional states change when they listen to themselves speak in different tones.
In the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), participants, in shades of T-Pain, read stories aloud as French and Swedish researchers manipulated their voices — in real time — to sound happier, sadder and more fearful. Participants were unaware of the manipulation, but their emotional states shifted to match the tones they heard in their voices.
To alter emotional tone, researchers digitally modified various sound aspects based on “audio processing algorithms that simulate acoustic components of emotional vocalisations.” So, to happify a voice, for example, they changed pitch and inflection to make the speech sound more positive, compressed vocal dynamic range to project confidence and altered spectral content (frequency, basically) to make people sound more psyched.
This was the first study in which researchers manipulated the emotional quality of voices as people spoke, said study author Jean-Julien Aucouturier in a press release. Previously, the technique had only been applied to recordings.
The fact that participants’ moods changed in accordance with the emotional valence of their voices is of scientific interest because psychologists disagree over the purpose and process by which people modulate tone to affect emotion. Traditionally, it’s been thought that people intentionally change how they speak to have a specific emotional impact — i.e., when people slow down, use up-speak, go full-on vocal fry or add bubbly inflection, they're doing it for a reason (whether or not they know it).
But, in this study, participants didn’t know about the digital manipulation. They believed they were listening to natural (unaltered) speech, and their moods still changed accordingly. The results, study authors believe, suggest that people may not necessarily control how they speak in a goal-oriented manner, and that people take cues from their own voices to guide their moods.
Aucouturier said they’re going to publish the voice manipulation tool on their website, for anyone to download and get their narcissist on.
But the findings are useful for more than self-indulgent procrastination. Outside the science lab, according to one co-author, the digital manipulation platform could have therapeutic benefits. For instance, tonal modulation could help people with mood disorders re-ascribe new feelings to painful memories.
And then, of course, there’s the obvious application: Karaoke. If you love everything about Friday night sing-offs except for the underwhelming emotional impact of the experience, you’re in luck. Study authors suggest that hearing a happier version of yourself belting, say, What Would You Do (yeah, it’s my go-to) could transform your otherwise tone-deaf pipes into a legitimate therapeutic tool. Happy New Year.