Britney Spears does it, so do the Kardashians. And while it’s fair to say they’ve been incredibly successful in their chosen careers, mimicking the way they speak could be damaging yours.
A new study by PLOS ONE has discovered a way of speaking, known as “vocal fry” – which is typically more common in women than men – can affect the way people are perceived and can damage job prospects.
Vocal fry is the term used to describe speech which is “low pitched and creaky sounding”, the study noted. It is produced by a slow fluttering of the vocal chords, resulting in a croaky or popping sound in speech.
To give you a better idea, here’s a woman using a normal tone of voice:
And here’s the same woman using vocal fry:
So, what’s so bad about speaking with vocal fry? The researchers established that, in adults, this type of speech is perceived negatively by the general public, especially in women.
“Relative to a normal speaking voice, young adult female voices exhibiting vocal fry are perceived as less competent, less educated, less trustworthy, less attractive, and less hirable,” it reads.
“The negative perceptions of vocal fry are stronger for female voices relative to male voices. These results suggest that young American females should avoid using vocal fry speech in order to maximise labour market opportunities.”
Despite an earlier study finding vocal fry to be perceived positively by undergraduate students in America, this new research found it is perceived differently once you reach the workplace.
Researchers asked seven male and female participants to say the phrase, “Thank you for considering me for this opportunity” first in a normal tone, and then using vocal fry. The recordings were then played to 800 men and women, who overall preferred the normal voice.
Women with vocal fry received lower scores than men with vocal fry, particularly from other women who appeared to judge their female counterparts harshly.
However, despite it being perceived negatively, it appears vocal fry is increasing in prevalence, the study said. One explanation is that vocal fry has a social benefit in environments which don’t transfer to the labour market.
“For example, there may be social acceptance benefits to females to conforming to an increasingly common peer group affectation,” the study stated.
“Nonetheless, whether such behavior is conscious or unconscious, the results here suggest speakers should undertake conscious effort to avoid vocal fry in labour market settings.”