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Why Listening to Our Recorded Voice Feels Uncomfortable

Why Listening to Our Recorded Voice Feels Uncomfortable

November 28, 2023

Sending voice messages has become a norm in our digital conversations, yet many recoil from the prospect of listening to their own recorded voices, especially on platforms like WhatsApp. The discomfort is widespread, prompting curiosity about the reasons behind this aversion.


Researchers at Mass Eye and Ear Hospital, affiliated with Harvard University, delved into this phenomenon. They conducted a study where participants were asked to listen to recordings of their own voices. Astonishingly, 58% of the participants actively resisted hearing themselves. Among them, 39% deemed their voices annoying. The core reason seemed to revolve around the loss of sound quality when hearing their voices through a device, in stark contrast to the way they perceive their voices in direct conversation.


Tricia Ashby Scabies, the director of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, shed light on the mechanics of sound transmission in human speech. She delineated two modes of sound transmission: air conduction and bone conduction. The former involves the outer ear, ear canal, eardrum, and inner ear bones, delivering a deeper, richer sound to our own ears. However, when we listen to a recording, we solely experience air conduction, resulting in a perceived loss of quality and depth in our voices.


Dr. Matthew Nauenheim, an otolaryngology expert from the University of Massachusetts Eye and Ear, emphasized that what we hear in a recording mirrors how others hear our voices. This realization often triggers discomfort, termed as "vocal confrontation," which can significantly affect one's self-confidence.


The roots of this discomfort trace back to pioneering research in the 1960s by psychologists Philip Holzman and Clyde Rosse. Their studies revealed that when individuals were exposed to visual representations of their voices, they tended to fixate on the negative aspects, leading to a skewed perception of their recorded voices.


This phenomenon, while widespread, highlights a crucial dissonance between how we perceive our voices internally and how they're projected and heard externally. Understanding this disparity sheds light on why listening to our own recorded voices remains an uncomfortable experience for many.


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