The peril of sounding manly: A look at vocal characteristics of lawyers before the United States Supreme Court

Conference on Laboratory Phonology

Venue: LabPhon
Type: Abstract

Alan C. L. Yu

University of Chicago

Daniel Chen

Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich

Katie Franich

University of Chicago

Jacob Phillips

University of Chicago

Betsy Pillion

University of Chicago

Sophie Hao

University of Chicago

Zhigang Yin

University of Chicago

Chinese Academy of Social Sciences


July 27, 2014

Individuals make use of many aspects of the speech signals to construct personas and to project hidden desires to the external world. Of interest here is whether vocal characteristics and the perceptual evaluation of them exert an influence on listener behavior. With the exception of a few pioneering studies (e.g., Purnell et al. 1999), this question has remained largely unexplored. In the present study, we examine the vocal characteristics of lawyers arguing in front of the Supreme Court of the United States and link this data to the lawyers’ actual win rates in the Court. We show that perceived attributes of voices predict Supreme Court wins, suggesting potential differential labor market treatment of lawyers with certain mutable characteristics such as sounding more or less masculine or confident.