Why do I Cringe at the Sound of My Own Voice?

Raise your hand if you hate the way you sound on video and audio recordings 🙋🏻‍♀️

As an accent coach, I routinely record my clients and have them listen to the recordings. Many of them grimace at this exercise and claim to dislike how they sound. Some have even asked me whether their voice really sounded like that.

The answer is, yes, you really sound like that; the audio recording is your real voice.

Most of us find audio recordings of our voice weird, high-pitched, and downright cringeworthy. Scientists have done research studies on this phenomenon, and even given it a term – “voice confrontation.”

So why do we dislike our own voice, you may wonder? There are both physiological and psychological reasons.

1. Physiological

The physiological reason is the one I had learned as a graduate student in audiology class –

Sound travels to our hearing mechanisms through the air. The sound waves vibrate the eardrums and a set of tiny ear bones, which then vibrate the cochlea. The cochlear, in turn, stimulates nerve ends that ultimately transmit the auditory signals to the brain. This process, called “air conduction,” is how we hear the sounds in our environment, including the audio recordings.

When we speak, while some of our voice sounds are transmitted through “air conduction,” much of it is transmitted to our inner ear internally, vibrating through our skull bones, a process called “bone conduction.” So when we speak, we hear ourselves through both air and bone conduction processes.

Bone conduction boosts lower frequencies, which is why we wince at our high-pitched voices in recordings.

2. Psychological

The psychological reason, while real, is much more open to speculation.

Some have suggested that our voice is part of our self-identity. Hearing a voice that does not match our “true voice” can be uncomfortable. Others have proposed that it’s because our voices convey our emotions and attitudes. When we hear a recording, we perceive more accurately the emotions and attitudes that we think have been hidden.

I, personally, think that we don’t like our “real” voice because a) we’re not used to this voice, and b) we have a tendency to be overly critical of ourselves. I remember the very first video I made for social media. Not only did my voice make me cringe, but I also thought that my teeth were crooked, my mouth was crooked, my whole face looked weird, and I couldn’t stand watching and listening to that video! The only thing I liked was my hair, and that was only because I had just gone to the hairdresser. Meanwhile, I was flooded with messages about how pretty I looked in the same video!

A study showed that when people listened to an array of voices and did not recognize their own voice, they actually rated their own voice as more attractive! This study proposed that people have “implicit egotism” and perceive what’s similar to theirs as superior.

I find it fascinating that when we recognize our own voice, we hate it, but when we don’t recognize our voice, we love it. To me, this contradiction shows our contradictory, narcissistic, but self-critical tendencies.

Ahh, the complexity of human nature!

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