Voice Personality is a Powerful Lever to Motivate Health Behavior

Jack Newsom, ScD, and Ryan Robbins, for HealthLeaders Media , March 3, 2010

There are many interesting attitudinal findings from our study including:

  • Both men and women across all age groups preferred a male voice to a female voice overall.
  • Voices described as fast paced, young, highly extroverted, perky, and animated rated poorly in the trustworthy and caring categories.
  • Voices described as moderately paced, middle-aged, and well-spoken/educated, were rated most trustworthy and caring.
  • Seniors (those 65+ years old) aren't as sensitive to voice age as other groups and don't perceive older voices as necessarily older sounding. By contrast, younger groups perceive "older" voices more negatively.
  • Seniors aren't as sensitive to the rate of speech as younger populations; therefore, slowing the pace may not be as impactful as was once thought for older populations.
  • Younger people (18- to 34-year-olds) are significantly more sensitive to voice age and rate of speech, which means very careful selection of voices for young audiences is important to drive behavior.,/li>
  • Young people showed stronger opinions overall between men and women when rating the voice gender they prefer. In other age groups, there is general agreement on voice gender preferences. Gender selection is therefore a more important factor for the 18-to-34-year-old age group.

The use of voice to motivate health decisions
The results of this study provide us insight into how people of varying gender, age, region, and health status perceive the voices they hear. Our goal is to validate how specific voices can be used as a lever to change behavior.

Voice, like other communications levers, such as messages and timing, can be selected based on the demographics, purpose, tone, and intent of communication, as well as how voice supports brand identity. By validating attitudinal voice responses against behavioral activity, voice can ultimately become a measurable behavioral best practice in healthcare communications.

While the bulk of our experience supports the conventional wisdom that a woman's voice is more effective for healthcare communications, our voice research suggests that there are opportunities to use a male voice to measurably move health behavior. A recent outreach program to educate individuals about the importance of colorectal cancer screenings supports our attitudinal research.

The outreach asked if the individual had received a screening during the past two years, and if they planned to schedule a consultation with their doctor. The same message was delivered by a male and a female voice. All population segments, including men, women, Caucasians, Hispanics, and Asians, answered the survey at a higher rate when a male voice was used versus when a female voice was used.

By applying science and measurement, we can determine the voice qualities that are the most impactful for a specific health behavior and for a group of people. There are measurable patterns in overall voice preference. Communications programs aimed at driving individual behavior should include voice analysis.

By measuring and understanding perceived voice personality, our research sheds light on an objective way to effectively apply voice in healthcare communications to ultimately impacts behavior change.

Jack Newsom, ScD, is vice president of analytics at Silverlink Communications, and Ryan Robbins is voice production manager at Silverlink Communications.
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