Why we hate hearing recordings of our own voice

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Illustration by Tara Jacoby

You don’t have to be in broadcasting or a singer or actor to be able to hear your own voice on a recording. It might make you cringe to listen to yourself.  But how we hear ourselves – on mic,  or even in our ears – is different from how others hear us speak.

A study completed at Stanford in 2006 had performers sing into a microphone and record it. Then, performers listened to their recorded voices and adjusted the sound of the recording to match the sound of what they hear in their head when they sing the same note.

When researchers compared the two recordings they could hear and analyze the difference between both voices – the one you hear through your head when you sing a note out loud and the one everyone standing next to you hears.

The study suggests that you hear a lower and warmer version of your own voice because the thick bone of your skull absorbs the higher frequencies before they get to your ear. Most people say they notice a higher pitch in recordings of their own voice.

KCRW’s Steve Chiotakis delved into the science with Rebecca Schaefer, a research fellow at the SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind at UC Santa Barbara. She studies how the brain processes voice, sound, and music.