What is it about Morgan Freeman’s voice that makes us love it so, tasking it to play the voice of God in movies or to guide us safely to our destination through the navigation app Waze? It turns out, there are some science-backed reasons why Freeman’s voice has so many fans.
One explanation is rather straightforward: “Some of the voices we hear all the time, they really form the backdrop of our lives,” says Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center. At the movies, we’ve watched Freeman play the good guy over and over again, and those years of positive associations add up. “You would turn right when he told you to,” Rutledge says.
But there’s something deeper going on with the appeal of Freeman’s voice—literally. In scientific experiments, people consistently perceive low-pitched voices in men as stronger and more physically attractive than male voices with a higher pitch. “It’s not surprising that Morgan Freeman is used for a lot of voiceover work, because his voice is perceived as that of a dominant, strong male figure,” says Casey Klofstad, associate professor of political science at the University of Miami and researcher of how society and biology influence the way we make decisions.
Our preference for deep-voiced men goes beyond who gets chosen for voiceover work, of course. It also influences who we elect. In one study, Klofstad and his colleagues recorded men and women saying “I urge you to vote for me this November,” then digitally raised and lowered the pitch of the recordings. Across the board, men and women in the experiment voted for the deeper versions of voices from both sexes. That’s because we get the impression that lower-voiced individuals have more integrity, competence and physical power.
Might we also prefer deeper voices because they sound older, and therefore wiser? At 78, Freeman’s appeal certainly provides anecdotal evidence for that armchair theory. But in a study last summer—which was basically identical to the voting experiment, but with the voters choosing who was stronger, more competent and older—Klofstad found that age mattered, but it wasn’t as important as those other factors.
“What we found is that the perceptions of strength and competence were the most strongly associated with the preference for lower voices,” Klofstad says.
Freeman, for his part, has his own theories about the power of voices like his. “If you’re looking to improve the sound of your voice, yawn a lot,” he said once in an interview. “It relaxes your throat muscles. It relaxes your vocal chords. And as soon as they relax, the tone drops. The lower your voice is, the better you sound.”