If you have a smartphone, you also have your very own digital personal assistant. There’s the iPhone’s Siri (now added to Apple TV), of course, but don’t forget Cortana on the Windows Phone or the S Voice on the Samsung Galaxy. And earlier this year, Amazon introduced Alexa, a Siri competitor that comes with the Amazon Echo. All of these virtual voices have one thing in common: They all sound female.
This, as you might’ve guessed, is no coincidence. Writing for Wired this week, Jessi Hempel explores some of the social-science research on the way people perceive male voices versus female voices. Take, for example, research conducted by Karl MacDorman, an Indiana University professor who studies human-computer interaction:
He and fellow researchers played clips of male and female voices to people of both genders, then asked them to identify which they preferred. The researchers also measured the way participants actually responded to the voices. In a 2011 paper, they reported that both women and men said female voices came across as warmer. In practice, women even showed a subconscious preference for responding to females; men remained subconsciously neutral. “Men will say they prefer female speech, and women really do prefer it,” MacDorman says.
Then again, you can’t entirely discount the fact that the Silicon Valley tech-bros who are designing many of these virtual assistants may be falling back on the “stereotype of a compliant sidekick,” Hempel concedes. But then again, it will be interesting to watch how these voices evolve alongside the technology. After all, for their app, Domino’s went with an affable-sounding dude-voice, which they dubbed Dom.