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The Cheater’s Voice

The Cheater's VoiceTelephones are used for everything from looking up a full library’s worth of information to hearing turn-by-turn directions to a new friend’s house. Text messaging allows for non-stop access to conversations and the convenient sharing of photos.

Telephones can also be used for not-so-innocent activities, such as bullying a classmate or sending nude or near-nude photos to a friend. They can also provide an easy to way to keep in touch with an extra-marital affair when a spouse is not within earshot.

However, when it comes to affairs, the phone that makes the affair covert could also bring about the downfall of the extramarital relationship. A study by researchers at Albright College in Reading, Penn., finds that detecting whether a spouse is having an affair could be as easy as listening in on a phone conversation.

The study, conducted by Susan Hughes, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Albright, provides evidence that both women and men change their voices when they are speaking to a lover. The change in voice is an obvious difference from the voice used when talking to a same-sex friend, according to the research results.

The variations in voice may be useful in detecting an unfaithful spouse, says Hughes. The change does not require special equipment or a trained ear to detect, but instead can be easily heard by those listening to one side of the conversation.

The findings are published in the Journal of Nonverbal Behavior. The study is co-authored by Jack LaFayette, the director of institutional research at Albright, and Sally Farley, former assistant professor of psychology at Albright, now teaching at the University of Baltimore.

This study investigated the way that participants altered their voices when talking to lovers compared to the way they talked to same-sex friends in a telephone conversation. The participants recruited were 24 callers who were in love in the early stages and still experiencing a honeymoon effect in their relationship.

The participants were instructed to call their romantic partners and a same-sex friend and in each case begin a conversation with “how are you?” as well as “what are you doing?”

The researchers then recruited 80 independent individuals to act as raters to judge for sexiness, degree of romantic interest and pleasantness. The raters were allowed to listen to one side of the conversation only. In some instances the raters were able to hear only two seconds of the conversation.

Even with only two seconds of audio, the raters could correctly identify whether the callers was talking to a lover or a friend. The findings suggest that people generally alter their voices to talk to romantic partners versus a same-sex friend in order to communicate a special relationship status.

Voices directed at a romantic partner were rated as more pleasant, more sexy and communicating more romantic interest than voices directed to a same-sex friend.

Another interesting finding from the study was the tendency both men and women had in trying to match the pitch of their romantic partners. Women used a lower pitch and men used a higher one when speaking to their lover. The researchers say that this behavior may be a way to communicate a desire for intimacy and affiliation or oneness with a romantic partner

The researchers were surprised to find that when they studied the paralanguage samples of the calls, the calls to romantic partners contained high levels of stress and a lack of confidence. The researchers say that this may reflect the vulnerability that exists in a new love relationship.

The findings suggest that the detection of a spouse’s affair could be as simple as listening to one side of their phone conversations. Given the current culture where there is an application for everything on mobile phones, it may only be a matter of time before phone calls are regularly monitored for voice changes.

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