There’s A Real Reason You Can’t Stand The Sound Of Your Own Voice
You’re so excited to watch yourself in a friend’s YouTube video.
You’re overjoyed to finally listen to yourself on a recording for a class project.
As soon as the video starts playing or as soon as tape starts turning, you are suddenly stopped dead in your tracks.
What is that awful noise? Who is that ratchet person speaking?
AHHH! It sounds like the deafening cries of a parrot being crammed and churned up inside of a meat grinder!
You suddenly realize the person you are seeing and hearing is, in fact, you.
You are utterly horrified by the screechy, annoying, horrible sound of your own voice.
This can’t possibly be how you sound in real life, can it?
Unfortunately, it is. That high-pitched granny wail is, in fact, how the whole world hears your voice.
Don’t fret! We all feel the same way about our voices.
We all despise the unfamiliar eerie, irritating, nasally sound of our speech that comes through on a recording.
Let’s start with a super skinny anatomy lesson.
The ear has three main parts: the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear.
According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, the outer ear is the part you can see outside of your head — so the things you grab when you’re pointing out your Alfalfa-sized ears that take up most of your face. Just me?
The outer ear opens up to the ear canal. The eardrum separates the canal from the middle ear.
The middle ear contains three bones, which are the main conductors of sound. They “amplify and transfer” sounds to the inner ear.
The inner ear is the last stop before the brain. It contains the cochlea (not to confused with the similarly named music festival Coachella), which “changes sound into neurological signals and the auditory (hearing) nerve, which takes sound to the brain.”
Anything that creates sound sends a series of vibrations into the ear.
The ear takes these sounds and funnels them through the three parts of the ear. According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology:
The vibrations are passed to the three small bones of the middle ear, which transmit them to the cochlea. The cochlea contains tubes filled with fluid. Inside one of the tubes, tiny hair cells pick up the vibrations and convert them into nerve impulses. These impulses are delivered to the brain via the hearing nerve. The brain interprets the impulses as sound.
What you hear when you listen to your own voice (nothing soulful, here, y’all).
There are two different ways that sound enters our ears: air-conducted or bone-conducted.
Air-conducted sounds are noises that enter the ear from the outside. These are the sounds we hear when we’re listening to music, to ourselves on tape or on a recording.
According to NBC, it “is transmitted through the eardrums, vibrating three bony ossicles (malleus, incus and stapes) and terminating in the cochlea. The cochlea, a fluid-filled spiral structure, converts these vibrations into nerve impulses to be interpreted in the brain.”
Remember what we just learned about the middle ear, kids?
Bone-conducted sounds are “vibrations from our vocal cords [that] directly reach the cochlea.”
When we’re listening to the voice inside our heads, as opposed to a recording, we’re hearing a mixture of air-conducted and bone-conducted sounds. It is a cacophony of noise that only YOU can hear.
According to Dr. William Cullinan, dean of the College of Health Sciences and director of the Integrative Neuroscience Research Center at Marquette University:
When you ‘hear’ your own voice, however, not only do the sound/pressure waves leaving your own mouth (call this the external stimulus) reach your ear and activate this series of events, but a second thing happens: The physical act of producing speech, which involves contraction of the muscles of the larynx (and others), creates a vibration that is translated through the neck to the skull where the entire auditory transduction apparatus is.
Your voice is bouncing around in your head. It is a unique sound for your ears only.
What we hear when we listen to that grotesque voice recording.
When we hear a recording, we’re eliminating the bone-conducted sound and listening to our voices only through the air-conducted sound.
As Dr. Chris Chang, an otolaryngologist at Fauquier Ear, Nose & Throat Consultants in Warrenton, Virginia told NBC:
When [people listen] to a recording of their voice speaking, the bone-conducted pathway that they consider part of their ‘normal’ voice is eliminated, and they hear only the air-conducted component in unfamiliar isolation — what everybody else actually hears.
The sound you will hear is a much sharper, high-pitched sound. It can really throw you for a loop.
So, why does hearing our own voices piss us off so much?
As SciShow’s science expert, Hank Green points out, the reason our voices sound alien to us over a recording has to do with the way we learned to speak when we were little munchkin babies.
We learned to talk by looking at the mouths of other people, trying to understand the sounds that were coming out of their mouths, and then, attempting to replicate those sounds.
We spend our whole lives hearing ourselves one way, only to have that completely thrown off when we hear ourselves recorded.
We think our voices are deeper than they are.
When you speak, do you hear a voice akin to the brooding Scarlett Johansson?
Well, guess what? You may actually sound more like Iago from “Aladdin.”
Our brains trick us into thinking the sounds we’re hearing are lower than they are.
So, when we listen to our voices outside of ourselves, on a tape or recording of some kind, we perceive them as sounding much more high-pitched and shrill than when we hear our voices spoken out loud.
When the bone-conducted sound is mixed with air-conducted sound, the sound is more reverent and rich.
Sorry to break it to you, champ, but that voice you hear over a recording is actually the way the whole world hears you speak.
We’re hearing our voices differently than we always have.
As Dr. Cullinan puts it:
We hate it because it is so foreign. You’ve certainly never heard yourself that way normally — and for good reason — you can’t avoid producing both internal and external stimuli prior to hearing your own voice. The irony is you are the only person who ‘hears’ yourself in the way you think everyone else does.
We are so accustomed to hearing our own voice that listening to a recording can be very jarring.
We go through life thinking we sound one way, only to have that rug ruthlessly torn from under us.
If it’s any consolation, we all are in the same boat. No one likes the way he or she sounds. It’s just a fact of life.
We’re all just a bunch of high-pitched lunatics trying to make it in this crazy world.
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