Why do we hate the sound of our own voices?

I routinely record my patients speaking as a surgeon who specializes in treating people with voice difficulties. These recordings are useful to me. They allow me to track minor changes in their voices from visit to visit, which helps me determine if surgery or voice treatment resulted in improvements. Nonetheless, I am shocked at how challenging these sessions may be for my patients. Many people become noticeably uneasy when they hear their own voice played back to them.”Do I sound like that?” they ask themselves, wincing.

(You do, really.) Some people grow so agitated that they refuse to listen to the recording at all, let alone go over the subtle changes I wish to highlight. The discomfort we experience while hearing our voices on audio recordings is most likely due to a combination of physiology and psychology. For one thing, the sound from an audio recording is delivered to your brain differently than the sound made when you talk.

When you listen to a recording of your voice, the sound travels through the air and into your ears via “air conduction.” The eardrum and small ear bones are vibrated by sound energy. The sound vibrations are subsequently transmitted by these bones to the cochlea, which excites nerve axons and sends the auditory signal to the brain. When you speak, however, the sound of your voice enters the inner ear differently.

While some sound is carried by air conduction, the majority is internally conducted directly via your skull bones. When you talk, you hear your own voice because of a combination of external and internal conduction, with internal bone conduction appearing to increase lower frequencies. As a result, when they talk, listeners perceive their voice to be deeper and richer. In comparison, the recorded voice can sound thinner and higher pitched, which many people find repulsive.

There’s another reason hearing a recording of your voice can be unsettling. It truly is a new voice — one that reveals a gap between your self-perception and reality. Because your voice is unique and a crucial part of your identity, this mismatch can be disconcerting. Suddenly, you realize that others have been hearing something different all along.

Even though we may appear to others to sound more like our recorded voice, I believe the reason so many of us squirm when we hear it is not because the recorded voice is necessarily worse than our perceived voice. We’re simply more accustomed to hearing ourselves sound a certain way.

In a 2005 study, people with voice issues were asked to score their own voices after hearing recordings of them. Clinicians were also asked to rate the voices. The researchers discovered that as compared to objective clinician assessments, patients consistently rated the quality of their recorded voice poorly. So, if the voice in your brain criticizes the voice coming out of a recording device, it’s most likely your inner critic overreacting – and you’re judging yourself too severely.

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