A feeling that can cause embarrassment and discomfort when hearing our own vocal cords.
It happens many times. Someone records us and, when we listen to our own voice, an unpleasant sensation invades us, a mixture of shame and annoyance when we notice that, curiously, what it sounds is nothing like the way we speak.
In addition, this is becoming more and more frequent. As the use of voice messages and social networks becomes popular , little by little it is very normal to have to face that horrible noise that is our recorded voice. An unclear tone of voice, sometimes shaky and curiously muffled that does not do us justice. Thinking that this is what others hear when we vibrate our vocal cords is quite discouraging.
But why does this happen? Where does this mixture of our own 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. It is quite easy, since most of us use our vocal cords a lot throughout a day, so our nervous system monitors what that sound is like, creates a kind of imaginary “average” of how our voice sounds and He fixes it to our self-concept in real time.
And what is self-concept? It is exactly what the word indicates: the concept of oneself. It is an abstract idea of one’s identity, and therefore 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 will happen, for example, with an animal with which we identify: the wolf, for example. If our identity is closely linked to the country in which we were born, all the ideas linked to this concept will also form part of the self-concept: its gastronomy, its landscapes, its traditional music, etc.
In short, the self-concept is made up of ideas and stimuli that come to us through all the senses: images, tactile sensations, sounds …
Comparing the recording with what we hear
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 realize it right away and possibly suffer an identity crisis, even if that new tone of voice was totally functional. As we are listening to our vocal cords all the time, this sound takes deep roots in our identity and, in turn, we learn to make it fit with all the sensations and concepts that make up the self-concept.
Now … is it really our voice that we internalize as if it were part of us? Yes and no. In part yes, because sound starts from the vibration of our vocal cords and is what we use to speak and express our points of view and our own vision of the world. But, at the same time, no, because the sound that our brain registers is not just our voice, but a mixture of this and many other things.
What we are doing when 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 in a different way than we do with any other sound, because it comes from within us.
And what about the recordings?
On the other hand, when our voice is recorded, we listen to it as we would listen to the voice of any other person: we record the waves that our eardrums pick up, and from there to the auditory nerve. There are no shortcuts, and our bodies don’t amplify that sound any more than it would any other noise.
What actually happens is that these types of recordings are a blow to our self-concept, since we are questioning one of the central ideas on which our identity is built: that our voice is X, and not Y.
In turn, the questioning of this pillar of one’s own identity makes others stumble. This new sound is recognized as something strange, which does not fit into who we are supposed to be and which, in addition, creates a mess in that network of interconnected concepts that is self-concept. What if we sound a bit more puny than expected? How does that fit in with the image of a robust and compact man that floats in our imagination?
The bad news is that that voice that makes us so embarrassed is exactly the same voice that everyone else hears every time we speak. The good news is that much of the unpleasant sensation we experience when hearing it is due to the comparative clash between the voice we usually hear and that other, and not because our voice is particularly annoying.