Perceived Power Affects Vocal Characteristics, Life Outcomes

Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher participated in vocal training to project greater authority in her political role, with highly effective results.

Even without specific vocal training, research volunteers adopted powerful vocal elements when believed they had power and informational advantages in lab experiments by San Diego State University’s Sei Jin Ko and Melody S. Sadler with Adam D. Galinsky of Columbia.

Sei Jin Ko

Sei Jin Ko

Ko’s team asked more than 160 volunteers to read a text designed to evaluate speaking skills as a baseline for later comparison.
Then, they randomly assigned volunteers to a “high” ranking role with the prime “you have a strong alternative offer, valuable inside information, or high status in the workplace, or by asking participants to recall an experience in which they had power.

The remaining participants were told they had “a weak offer, no inside information, or low workplace status,” or were asked to recall an experience in which they lacked power.

Melody Sadler

Melody Sadler

To compare the impact of these power primes with the baseline reading performance, participants in both groups read a text about negotiating.
People in the high power group spoke in a higher pitch, with greater volume, and less tone variability than the low-power group.
In fact, team Ko found that people in the high power prime group had a similar vocal profile to Thatcher following her vocal training.

Mariëlle Stel

Mariëlle Stel

This contrasts previous research that demonstrated lower vocal pitch is associated with greater perceived power in work by Tilburg University’s Mariëlle Stel and Farah M. Djalal with Eric van Dijk and Wilco W. van Dijk of Leiden University, collaborating with University of California, San Diego’s Pamela K. Smith.

Eric van Dijk

Eric van Dijk

In additional investigations by Ko’s team, additional participants listened to recordings of people who read in the previous condition, and accurately determined which volunteers conveyed higher status and were more likely to engage in high-power behaviors, based only on vocal elements.

Joris Lammers

Joris Lammers

Power primes” or asking people to recall a time they had power and felt powerful, can significantly influence important life opportunities determined by hiring and university admission decisions, reported Tilburg University’s Joris Lammers with David Dubois of INSEAD and Northwestern’s Derek D. Rucker collaborating with Adam D. Galinsky of Columbia.

Thomas Mussweiler

Thomas Mussweiler

Self-generated primes are especially influential because they lead to “assimilation of the power suggestion, whereas primes provided by other people, as in Ko’s investigation, yield “contrast,” suggested Universität Würzburg’s Thomas Mussweiler and Roland Neumann.

Egon Brunswik

Egon Brunswik

The strong impact of beliefs about power has been explained by Egon Brunswik of Berkeley’s “lens model” of perception, self-fulfilling prophecy theory by University of California’s Robert Rosenthal, and self-efficacy theory described Stanford’s Albert Bandura.

Francesca Gino

Francesca Gino

To personalize these theories and demonstrate the impact of power beliefs on life outcomes, Francesca Gino discussed her use of power primes to increase her confidence during presentations, leading to her current role at Harvard, where she pursues research on the impact of power primes and beliefs on personal performance and outcomes.

These findings suggest that beliefs about personal power shape behaviors like vocal profile, which can lead to differing outcomes in occupational and life opportunities.

Egon Brunswik's Lens Model

Egon Brunswik’s Lens Model

  • How do you modify your voice to convey power and authority?
  • How do you develop confidence in your power?

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2 thoughts on “Perceived Power Affects Vocal Characteristics, Life Outcomes

  1. kathrynwelds Post author

    Leslie Williams, M.S., MCC wrote:
    Fascinating research! Thank you so much for posting this, Kathryn.

    Kathryn Welds responded:
    Thanks for your comment and Follow, Leslie. The research seems to reconfirm the two-way impact of expectations and behavior, suggesting we can change life outcomes by modifying behaviors, expectations, or both.

    Zac Reichert, M.A. added:
    Wonderful presentation and something to think about when entering into a situation that requires power. With contrasting research on the pitch being high or low I wonder what a moderator might be to account for this e.g. gender, person we are negotiating with or environmental cues. Would love to dig deeper into this.

    Kathryn Welds replied:
    Thanks, Zac, for pointing out the contrasting findings about vocal pitch and its relation to perceived power:

    People in the high power group spoke in a higher pitch, with greater volume, and less tone variability than the low-power group.
    In fact, team Ko found that people in the high power prime group had a similar vocal profile to Thatcher following her vocal training.

    This contrasts previous research that demonstrated lower vocal pitch is associated with greater perceived power in work by Tilburg University’s Mariëlle Stel and Farah M. Djalal with Eric van Dijk and Wilco W. van Dijk of Leiden University, collaborating with University of California, San Diego’s Pamela K. Smith.

    I haven’t seen studies that explain these differing results, so it’s definitely worth investigating, as you mention.
    -*Does anyone have theories to explain why high vocal pitch is associated with power in some studies yet other studies show this relationship between low vocal pitch and power?

    Reply
  2. kathrynwelds Post author

    Jennifer Hartnett-Henderson wrote:

    I was intrigued and saddened by your post on vocal loudness. I don’t know how you do it. Looking into those places of disparity. Kudos to you for your persistent courage.

    Kathryn Welds responded:

    Thanks for your support, Jennifer! I look for surprises and discrepancies, and it seems that there are many available in social science research and business analysis.

    Reply

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