We’ve all been there—someone is playing a video where they were lucky enough to get a special appearance from you. Of course, you start by checking yourself out. So far, so good. But then, something appalling occurs. On the recording, you witness your past self open their mouth and start babbling. You can’t help yourself, you become possessed by the embarrassment demon, turn to the person playing the video and ask them to pause it immediately. ‘Is that really what I sound like?’ you ask them. Whether they answer affirmatively or not, there aren’t two ways to go about it, so we’ll be honest: yes, you do sound like that.
As you’ve probably guessed already, in this article, we’ll be answering the million-dollar question, why do we hate the sound of our own voices? But before we tackle this one, we first need to look at why we’re not capable of hearing ourselves correctly.
When talking out loud, people tend to hear the sound they generate in a deeper voice tone than what everyone else hears. To others, your voice generally sounds higher pitched than what you’d expect, which is partly why being presented with such a twisted reality is hard to swallow.
The sound of your voice reaches your inner ear in two different ways. The vocal folds in your throat vibrate creating sound waves that travel through the air. But those sound vibrations also conduct through your body, particularly through your skull and bones. You might be wondering what that indicates exactly. In a video titled Why Do I Hate The Sound Of My Own Voice?, the YouTube channel BrainStuff – HowStuffWorks explains it rather simply, “Our skulls lower the frequency of these ladder vibrations as they bounce around our throat, mouth and neck before reaching the ear’s cochlea through the fleshy tissue in our heads.”
As a result, the surrounding bones spread out the vibrations, lower their pitch and enhance the lower frequency vibrations. That’s why your voice sounds fuller and deeper than it actually is. On the other hand, when we hear our voice played back on a recording, we don’t get it filtered through flesh and bone. Instead, what we’re hearing then is only the air conducted sound of our voice as waves of pressure—what’s referred to as ‘air conduction’.
“In both cases, the cochlea converts these vibrations into impulses that are sent to the brain but with the elimination of the bone-conducted sound, we end up hearing our own voice the way everybody else hears it,” the video further explains.
In an article for Big Think, laryngologist—a surgeon who treats disorders of voice, breathing and swallowing—Neel Bhatt mentioned why hearing a recording of your voice can be so disconcerting, “It really is a new voice—one that exposes a difference between your self-perception and reality. Because your voice is unique and an important component of self-identity, this mismatch can be jarring. Suddenly, you realize other people have been hearing something else all along.”
“Even though we may actually sound more like our recorded voice to others, I think the reason so many of us squirm upon hearing it is not that the recorded voice is necessarily worse than our perceived voice. Instead, we’re simply more used to hearing ourselves sound a certain way,” Bhatt continued.
Scrolling through the comments under BrainStuff – HowStuffWorks’s video, it’s clear to see that each of us has had to experience that realisation. YouTube user WILD THINGS shared, “When I was a teenager I worked at a supermarket and had to use the store’s intercom on a regular basis. There was no delay, so I was hearing my voice internally and externally at the same time. I always found it strange, almost like two different people talking. The voice I was hearing over the speakers was noticeably different. Always gave me a weird sensation and I avoided using the intercom as much as possible.”
Another, Punky Nene, wrote, “I want to hear how Morgan Freeman hears himself.” A fair demand if you ask us. The moral of the story is that we all—besides Freeman—feel self-conscious about the way we sound. In fact, it’s been proven scientifically. In a 2005 study, researchers had patients with voice problems rate their own voices when presented with recordings of them. They also had clinicians rate the voices. They found that patients, across the board, tended to more negatively rate the quality of their recorded voice compared with the objective assessments of clinicians.
So, now that you know the answers to the two main ‘why’s of this article, you’ve got one last thing to cross off your list—it’s time for you to tackle your inner critic for good and start loving what you truly sound like. Good luck.
Take a look at the image above; what do you see? Well, a brick obviously, but sarcastic comment aside, you’ll probably see a face. We apes have developed quite a knack for spotting patterns, thanks to the evolutionary process we’ve faced floating on this big rock in space—spotting patterns of faces in inanimate objects is no exception. It’s the reason why the famous “Face on Mars” photograph, essentially a trick of light and shadow on an image taken in 1976 which gave the illusion that there was a creepy-looking face on the planet, gained so much attention. Even freakier, people have claimed to see Jesus himself on toast… holy crust. But what causes us to see faces? Scientists have dubbed the psychological behaviour as facial pareidolia, and there’s actually more to this phenomenon than meets the eye.
Pareidolia is the tendency for perception to impose a meaningful interpretation on a nebulous stimulus, usually visual so that one sees an object, pattern or meaning where there is none. Common examples are perceived images of things like animals, faces, objects in cloud formations or in space objects—particularly the Moon. The list is long but if you’re in need of more convincing that it is, in fact, a natural and common trick of the mind, take a dive through the @FaceInThings Twitter account.
It’s claimed the concept of pareidolia can also be extended to hearing hidden messages in music played in reverse or at different speeds. This may explain why videos on YouTube claiming that ‘Stairway to Heaven‘ in reverse actually has hidden satanic messages—sorry to burst the bubble, that’s actually just pareidolia doing its thing, there’s no hidden agenda trying to sign people up to Satanism. At one point in time, pareidolia was considered a symptom of psychosis but it’s now recognised as a normal human tendency. Even computers have been able to display pareidolia-recognising faces in images when taught visual cues by scientists.
Okay, so the evidence is clear: it’s a perfectly natural phenomenon, we all see faces in inanimate objects—and thanks to science, you can be assured that you’re not experiencing any symptoms of psychosis. But that only explains that the concept does exist, not why it exists. Researchers at the University of Sydney have attempted to answer this question. They found that not only do we see faces in everyday objects, our brains process objects for emotional expression—similar to how we do for real faces—rather than disregarding the objects as ‘false’ detections. In the paper published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, they argued that this mechanism is perhaps an evolutionary trait, due to the need to quickly judge whether a person is a friend or foe.
Lead author, David Alais, a researcher at the University of Sydney, told The Guardian in an interview that “we are such a sophisticated social species and face recognition is very important…” He continued: “You need to recognize who it is, is it family, is it a friend or foe, what are their intentions and emotions? Faces are detected incredibly fast. The brain seems to do this using a kind of template-matching procedure. So if it sees an object that appears to have two eyes above a nose above a mouth, then it goes, ‘Oh I’m seeing a face’. It’s a bit fast and loose and sometimes it makes mistakes, so something that resembles a face will often trigger this template match.”
The next time you see a face in an object, whether that be a piece of fruit, a shot of the Moon or even just the clouds—don’t freak out, it’s just pareidolia. When you think about it, the concept is both fascinating and humbling: it’s a stark reminder that although we feel disconnected from our ancestors, we’re still bound to our evolved monkey-brain bodies. Oh, and sorry if I ruined your Jesus apparition fantasies—don’t read too much into it.