Now is the winter of our vocal discontent

3 minute read

Is surgery really the answer to changing how a person sounds?

It will come as little surprise that many people do not like the sound of their own voices.

The difference between what a speaker hears internally and what external listeners register can be considerable and unnerving, especially for tone-deaf wannabe singers intent on becoming the next Mariah Carey.

What is perhaps a little bit more surprising is the findings in research published last month in The Laryngoscopeshowing just how much people do not like the sound of their own voices and the lengths they would consider going to in order to change them.

American researchers at a Harvard-based teaching hospital, delightfully named Mass Eye and Ear, surveyed more than 1500 people and asked them three key questions concerning: 

  1. The extent to which they liked or disliked their own voices;
  2. The factors that contributed to a dislike of one’s voice; and
  3. The level of their willingness to consider interventions to change their voice.

What they found was a minority (38.8%) of respondents reported they did not like the sound of their own voice in normal conversation, and when asked about listening to a recording of their own voice, a majority (57.5%) reported dissatisfaction with what they heard.

But the finding that really did raise a quizzical eyebrow was that more than half of folks surveyed who had no history of any voice disorders would also consider an elective intervention to change how they sounded.

Of those respondents who had no actual vocal abnormalities but would still consider surgery or other medical interventions to change their voice, the factors of clarity and pitch were most commonly cited as reasons to intervene.

“We spend a lot of time trying to help people with voice problems, like polyps, cancers, or paralysis. But what we haven’t realised until now is how many normal people – that is, people without any diagnosed voice condition – really don’t like their voices,” study author Dr Matthew Naunheim told media.

“It raises the question of whether elective, or even cosmetic, voice interventions for people who want to change their voices could become part of our work as otolaryngologists.”

Far be it for your Back Page scribbler to suggest that otolaryngologists might be using a survey such as this to drum up a bit of business, but is surgery really the answer here?

As any actor or broadcaster or professional singer could tell you, the larynx has muscles and muscles can be trained. And along with training the diaphragm and all the other bits and pieces that contribute to how a voice sounds, it is entirely possible to “improve” the way a “normal” voice sounds without wielding a scalpel or a syringe.

Still, we’ve yet to meet a first-world problem that can’t be solved by throwing dubious but highly expensive solutions at it.

Send story tips to if you don’t want a knife to your throat.

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