'Vocal Fry' Could Limit Success of Young Female Professionals

May 28, 2014
Accounting, Behavioral Science

Researchers discover that a vocal tone common to young women could make them less hirable

DURHAM, N.C. -- Women exhibiting a low-pitched, creaky voice known as "vocal fry" are considered less competent, educated, trustworthy, attractive and hirable, according to research from Duke University's Fuqua School of Business.

In a study of males and females exhibiting the tone, Fuqua professors Bill Mayew and Mohan Venkatachalam, along with Duke research scientist Rindy Anderson and University of Miami professor Casey Klofstad, discovered that vocal fry is perceived negatively in both sexes, but that women are perceived more negatively than men when they use it.

"One possible reason for this is that a lowered register is seen as more atypical for women than men," Mayew said. "What was even more interesting is that female listeners perceive vocal fry more negatively than male listeners."

The findings, reported in a paper titled, "Vocal Fry May Undermine the Success of Young Women in the Labor Market," appear in the May edition of PLOS ONE.

Vocal fry among young American women has grown in recent years, Mayew said. The researchers hypothesized that the popularity of vocal fry could be a result of perceived social benefits or because young women think a deep voice is seen as more dominant and that could lead to success in the workplace.

The researchers conducted an experiment using 800 online listeners split evenly between men and women. The listeners were randomly assigned to listen to either seven male voices or seven female voices that alternated between vocal fry and normal tones of voice. The listeners were then asked to judge the examples for competence, education, trustworthiness and attractiveness.

The experiment found a strong aversion to voices exhibiting vocal fry, particularly among women.

"In a standard interview setting, gut instinct plays a large role in whether a candidate is hired," Venkatachalam said. "Vocal fry could sway that judgment against a candidate."

Given the barriers women already face in the workplace, "These results suggest that women should avoid vocal fry to maximize their chances of success in the labor market," Mayew said.

This story may not be republished without permission from Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. Please contact media-relations@fuqua.duke.edu for additional information.

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