Scientists Analyze Public Leaders’ Voices to Discover the Basis for Charisma
Researchers are discovering how charismatic leaders manipulate their vocal qualities to rouse people to action. WSJ's Robert Lee Hotz and Tanya Rivero discuss. Photo: GettyByRobert Lee HotzDec. 1, 2014 5:16 p.m. ET 47 COMMENTS
Scientists are tuning in on the power of the spoken word, seeking the secrets of charisma.
By analyzing the harmonics of pitch, frequency and timbre, researchers at University of California, Los Angeles are discovering how charismatic public speakers use their voices to dominate, rouse and influence a large audience. They are finding that successful politicians in various countries, including Italy, France and Brazil, all share key vocal qualities that strongly affect how people respond to them, independent of the meaning of the words they say or the ideas they express.
In a separate analysis of some prominent business leaders, the researchers also found charismatic patterns in the public speeches of Apple Inc. Chief Executive Tim Cook and the late Steve Jobs .
For speech experts, the voice is an instrument of rare persuasive power, tuned by evolution and culture to communicate far more than words alone convey. Some people are just born with the charismatic qualities that dominate or inspire trust, but voice researchers are confident that at least some of these acoustic elements can be taught.
“You have the capacity to shape your voice in a way that makes people perceive you as a leader,” said UCLA acoustic scientist Rosario Signorello, who conducted the charisma experiments. He presented his work recently at the annual meeting of the Acoustic Society of America in Indianapolis. “It applies to politicians, to CEOs, to everyone who aspires to leadership status.”
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