There’s something to the quiet confidence behind a rumbling “dad voice.” Studies have shown that low-pitched voices are considered more attractive and physically stronger. Sure, it’s unfair to men who weren’t blessed with James Earl Jones’ timbre (and even more unfair to women) but, to a certain degree, we seem to be wired to show respect when Dad commands us to eat our veggies.
Why should voice pitch make a difference?
Most research on the power of pitch has focused on whether candidates with deeper voices are more likely to win elections. Analyses of every presidential debate between 1960 and 2000 revealed that the candidate with the deeper voice invariably won a higher percentage of the popular vote. One 2012 study found that Republicans are more biased against high-pitched candidates than Democrats and that men are more likely to accept a woman in a leadership role if she has a lower-pitched voice (although they consider women with high-pitched voices more attractive).
One fascinating 2015 study asked 800 men and women to listen to different speakers repeat the line “I urge you to vote for me this November”, and then choose a candidate based on voice alone. The frequency of the male voices in the study range from 81 Hz (James Earl Jones) to 136 Hz (Sean Connery) and participants invariably chose candidates whose voices were in the lowest register.
In a word, we seem to trust deeper voices. Perhaps that’s why it’s a time-honored tradition to call in Dad when it comes to harsh discipline (“just wait til your father gets home…”) and why we lower our voices when we want to warn our wilder children. Deeper voices exude confidence, and we listen to them — whether they’re telling us to vote for them this November or to clean up our rooms.
But why? One possibility is that lower voices indicate higher levels of testosterone, which has been linked to aggressive behaviors. We may be hardwired to elect leaders with deeper voices because we instinctively consider them most likely to win wars and club saber-toothed cats to death. Perhaps dads with deep voices command respect because, somewhere in every child’s primitive brain, there’s the notion that anyone with a deep voice can keep others safe. Indeed, studies have shown that people assume that men with lower-pitched voices will display more integrity and competence.
At the same time, leaders haven’t needed to be physically aggressive to win wars for some time, so it’s unclear why we’d still defer to testosterone. Another reason why deep dad voices win elections and command respect among children is that, as we get older, our voices usually get deeper. Voice frequency decreases as we age, thanks to hormonal changes and physiological changes in the larynx, and may subtly signal to others that we’re older, wiser, and more experienced. Dad voices, then, may simply remind children of wise old men who have the clout to tell them to cut it out already.
Regardless, other studies have shown that we associated lower-pitched voices with a battery of negative characteristics including fear and stress. So the scientific advice is simple. If you want to leave an impression on your kids, lower your timbre. It’s far less traumatizing than yelling at them and, if the studies on election results are any indication, it’ll probably be more effective, too.