I have an interesting question for you in this blog. There are individual physical attributes that alter the voice and ageing also affects the way we sound. So how accurately can listeners estimate how old a talker is without any visual clues? Not very well, actually: for much of adult life, the voice only changes slightly. People look for a variety of clues to guess someone’s age. Perhaps a slower speaking rate is the most useful. A listener may assume that a lower-pitched voice signals an older voice, despite the fact that a man’s pitch tends to rise after middle age. Hoarseness, roughness and less precise speech gives no reliable indication either, which may be good news for older speakers as their age may be underestimated. When we hear a voice that is in good condition, we assume that the speaker is young.
So can we judge height and weight from the sound of a voice? Well, possibly if we are comparing adults to children or men to women, but within a group such as adult males the voice gives us no reliable clues as to stature.
If we look at other species there is a general trend for small animals to have higher-pitched voices and larger animals to have deeper ones – mice squeak while lions roar. Also smaller objects which make sounds tend to produce higher-pitched notes than larger ones – listen to a violin and a double base. This will also be seen when we consider children and adults -size makes a difference to pitch.
Our brains are so keen to develop rules that we will dismiss exceptions like a tall sportsman, such as David Beckham, with a higher voice. There is a strong relationship between size and frequency for many other sound sources, so we tend to relate this to human voices too.
Perhaps you have had the rather strange experience of meeting someone and thinking that their voice does not match their appearance. This is especially likely if you have developed a relationship on the phone and created a mind-picture of the person you are speaking to based only on the vocal sound. Studies now suggest that people are correct at matching faces and ages to voices about 60% of the time. While this is better than guessing, it is still pretty poor. So you needn’t worry. Your voice is unlikely to give your age away!
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