By Alexandra Sifferlin
May 6, 2015
TIME Health
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A new study from researchers at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business suggest that when giving a pitch, an interviewee’s voice—not what they’ve written down—is what’s most convincing when it comes to gauging intellect.

In the study, published in the journal Psychological Science, the researchers conducted several experiments using MBA students. They videotaped the students while they were giving elevator pitches. Prospective employers or professional recruiters then watched, listened to or read transcripts of those pitches.

The researchers found that the evaluators rated the job candidates as more intelligent, thoughtful, and competent when they heard their pitch as opposed to when they read it. Showing the evaluators the video didn’t impact the results of the evaluations any more than hearing the candidate’s voice.

“Our data does not show that appearances don’t matter,” says study author Nicholas Epley, a professor at he University of Chicago Booth School of Business. “What they show is that your intelligence is not necessarily something I can see on your body, but I think it’s a cue that we can pick up or hear in your voice.”

MBA students didn’t expect this to be the case. “People seem to be afraid of sounding stupid or something, but in fact, they seem to be in danger of seeming stupid when they type,” says Epley.

In the context of a job interview, Epley says their data suggests that if there’s an opportunity to speak to someone directly, you should take it.

Epley also adds that the study sheds light on why people treat each other terribly on the Internet. “We think this gets to something really fundamental in social life,” he says. “We think this speaks to a broader capacity to recognize that other people are human beings. And the capacity to recognize someone’s mind, we think comes quite literally through their voice. So much of our conversations and interactions with each other are done digitally with the voice stripped out. I don’t think it’s any accident that people online people seem to treat each other as mindless idiots.”

Though the study is still preliminary, it reminds us that in certain contexts we can fail to recognize someone’s mind, or humanity, because they may not have much of a voice.

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