It happens a lot. Someone records us, and when we listen to our own voice , we are overcome by an unpleasant sensation, a mixture of shame and displeasure when we notice that, curiously, what it sounds like is nothing like the way we speak.
Moreover, this is becoming more and more frequent. As the use of voice messages and social networks becomes more popular, it is gradually becoming very normal to have to deal with that horrible noise that is our recorded voice. An unclear, sometimes shaky and curiously muffled tone of voice that does not do us justice. Thinking that this is what others hear when we vibrate our vocal chords is quite discouraging.
But… why does this happen? Where does this mixture of self and others’ shame that we usually notice when we listen to our recorded voice come from? The cause is psychological.
Listening to our own voice
The first thing to keep in mind to understand this phenomenon is that, although we may not realize it, the human brain is constantly learning what our voice is like. This is quite easy, since most of us use our vocal cords a lot during the course of a day, so our nervous system monitors what that sound is like, creates a kind of imaginary “average” of how our voice sounds and fixes it to our self-concept in real time .
And what is self-concept? It is precisely what the word indicates: the concept of oneself. It is an abstract idea of one’s own identity , and therefore it overlaps with many other concepts. For example, if we believe that we are sure of ourselves, this idea will be closely linked to our self-concept, and possibly the same thing will happen, for example, with an animal with which we identify: the wolf, for example. If our identity is very much linked to the country where we were born, all the ideas linked to this concept will also be part of our self-concept: its gastronomy, its landscapes, its traditional music, etc.
In short, the self-concept is made up of ideas and stimuli that reach us through all the senses: images, tactile sensations, sounds…
Comparing the recording with what we heard
Thus, our voice will be one of the most important stimuli of our self-concept. If we woke up tomorrow with a totally different voice, we would notice it immediately and possibly suffer an identity crisis, even if that new tone of voice was fully functional. As we are listening to our vocal chords all the time, this sound takes deep root in our identity and, in turn, we learn to make it fit with all the sensations and concepts that make up our self-concept.
Now… is it really our voice that we internalize as if it were part of us? Yes and no. Partly yes, because sound is part of the vibration of our vocal cords and is what we use to speak and express our views and our own vision of the world. But, at the same time, no, because the sound that our brain registers is not only our voice , but a mixture of this and many other things.
What we are doing by listening to ourselves in a normal context is actually hearing the sound of our vocal cords muffled and amplified by our own body : cavities, muscles, bones, etc. We perceive it differently from any other sound, because it comes from within us.
What about the recordings?
Instead, when our voice is recorded, we hear it just as we would hear anyone else’s voice: we record the waves that our eardrums pick up, and from there to the auditory nerve. There are no shortcuts, and our body does not amplify that sound any more than it would any other noise.
What actually happens is that this type of recording is a blow against our self-concept, since we see one of the central ideas on which our identity is built being questioned: that our voice is X, and not Y.
In turn, the questioning of this pillar of one’s identity makes others waver .This new sound is recognized as something strange, which does not fit in with what we are supposed to be and which, moreover, creates a disruption in that network of interconnected concepts that is self-concept. What if we sound a little more puny than expected? How does that fit in with that image of a robust and compact man that floats in our imagination?
The bad news is that the voice that makes us so ashamed of others is precisely the same voice that everyone else hears every time we speak . The good news is that much of the unpleasant feeling we experience when hearing it is due to the comparative shock between the voice we usually hear and that other one, and not because our voice is particularly annoying.