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Big Question: Why do you hate the sound of your voice?

You can’t possibly sound like that grating voice on the answering machine, right?

The expert: Dr. William Cullinan, dean of the College of Health Sciences and director of the Integrative Neuroscience Research Center

“The answer has to with the sensory apparatus for hearing within the middle and inner ear (i.e. deep in the skull). When we hear, a series of events occurs (sort of like a Rube Goldberg machine, except that it isn’t over-engineered) whereby sound waves (really pressure waves) are transduced or transformed into an electric signal sent to the brain and interpreted as hearing. When you ‘hear’ my voice, the sound/pressure waves leaving my mouth enter your ear, and the process of events happens in series. When you ‘hear’ your own voice, however, not only do the sound/pressure waves leaving your own mouth (call this the external stimulus) reach your ear and activate this series of events, but a second thing happens. The physical act of producing speech, which involves contraction of the muscles of the larynx (and others), creates a vibration that is translated through the neck to the skull where the entire auditory transduction apparatus is. This delivers a second (internal) stimulus to the apparatus. The combination of the two stimuli is what you perceive as the sound of your own voice.  But you are the only person who hears it this way because you are the only one who can produce both stimuli. Everyone else receives only the external stimulus.  

“Now when you hear a recording of your own voice, you are essentially hearing the external stimulus only. People typically attribute the difference in sound to a poor quality recording, even with digital recording equipment. It is deep denial, indeed! We hate it because it is so foreign. You’ve certainly never heard yourself that way normally and for good reason you can’t avoid producing both internal and external stimuli prior to hearing your own voice. The irony is you are the only person who ‘hears’ yourself in the way you think everyone else does.”   


Have a big question? Send your ideas to nicole.etter@marquette.edu.


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