Perceived differences in social status between speaker and listener affect the speaker's vocal characteristics

PLoS One. 2017 Jun 14;12(6):e0179407. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0179407. eCollection 2017.


Non-verbal behaviours, including voice characteristics during speech, are an important way to communicate social status. Research suggests that individuals can obtain high social status through dominance (using force and intimidation) or through prestige (by being knowledgeable and skilful). However, little is known regarding differences in the vocal behaviour of men and women in response to dominant and prestigious individuals. Here, we tested within-subject differences in vocal parameters of interviewees during simulated job interviews with dominant, prestigious, and neutral employers (targets), while responding to questions which were classified as introductory, personal, and interpersonal. We found that vocal modulations were apparent between responses to the neutral and high-status targets, with participants, especially those who perceived themselves as low in dominance, increasing fundamental frequency (F0) in response to the dominant and prestigious targets relative to the neutral target. Self-perceived prestige, however, was less related to contextual vocal modulations than self-perceived dominance. Finally, we found that differences in the context of the interview questions participants were asked to respond to (introductory, personal, interpersonal), also affected their vocal parameters, being more prominent in responses to personal and interpersonal questions. Overall, our results suggest that people adjust their vocal parameters according to the perceived social status of the listener as well as their own self-perceived social status.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Diagnostic Self Evaluation
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic / methods
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Social Class*
  • Social Perception
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Speech / physiology*
  • Speech Acoustics
  • Voice / physiology*
  • Young Adult

Grant support

JDL was supported by Universidad El Bosque, Vicerrectory of Research under Grant No. PCI2015-8207 (, and COLCIENCIAS, the Colombian Administrative Department of Science, Technology and Innovation ( VRM was supported by the University of Stirling ( and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada ( The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.