What are you more likely to remember: what you actually said or what you thought you said? As it turns out, it might just be the latter! But what is this glitch in perception, and how does it work? It turns out voice-over feedback has plenty to do with how we connect the dots, and it works through some nifty mechanisms. If you want to learn about it and how to make it work in your favor, read on!

Perception vs. Reality

We normally take our perceptions for granted, but is that wise? Not always, it seems, as reality and our own hot takes don’t always intersect. Case in point, don’t you always hate how you sound in recordings? After all, you’ve got your own concept in your head about your angelic voice; often, when we’re faced with a high-quality recording, we panic. That can’t be the way we sound to others, right?! The same thing can happen when we look at our reflection in the mirror vs. a picture — even if it’s taken in flattering lighting!

It’s easy enough to explain with our voice: often, our idea of how it sounds is skewed by combining auditory and bodily stimuli. When we speak, air resonates in different cavities in our facial and chest bones. While others just listen to the resulting sound, we have a mixed sensory stimulus of what we hear and what we feel in our bodies. In essence, we hear our own feedback while we are speaking. That leads to the offputting feeling of hearing a stranger’s voice in recordings.

And voice-over feedback takes this reality to an even deeper level. Studies suggest that it can change our perception of not just how we speak, but of what we say as well!

How Is That Even Possible?

Reality can be a harsh mistress. But if you’re going to blame someone for voice-over feedback, blame the Swedes! Don’t shoot the messenger, is what we’re saying.

Researchers at Lund University in Sweden conducted a study that provides new insight into how we produce speech. The research suggested that auditory feedback is important when determining what we are saying as we speak. In other words, speakers actually listen to their own voices to help them specify the meaning of what they are saying. The researches published their findings at the Association for Psychological Science’s journal, Psychological Science.

Let’s take a deeper dive into the study to see what it’s all about.

The Voice-Over Feedback Stroop Test

Original theories assumed that we produce speech by starting with a clear, preverbal concept that goes through different encoding levels before finally becoming an utterance. Now, with the information from this study, the Swedish team proposes an alternative model. Researcher and lead author Andreas Lind explains that the meaning of words is not only internal to the speaker. It turns out that the sound of our own voice-over feedback and the context of the conversation can alter the end result too!

More than 75 Swedish participants completed a Stroop test where various color words were presented one at a time on a screen. For those unfamiliar (everyone?), the Stroop test taken by the study participants was something like this:

They then had to name the color of the font that each word was printed in instead of the color that the word signified. The participants received real-time auditory feedback during the test through headphones. What they were unaware of was that the researchers used a voice-triggered playback system to rig the feedback. This system used a technique called “Real-time Speech Exchange” or RSE, which substituted specific phonologically similar but semantically distinct words.

In layman’s terms: the researchers used voice-over feedback to slightly alter the words the participants heard. They spoke something, but a system called RSE replaced the words by others than sounded similar enough to avoid raising suspicion. Crafty!

voice over feedback for voice actors

Discoveries About Voice-Over Feedback

They discovered that when the word exchanges happened right on time, participants detected about 1/3 of the alterations. For the most part, on the non-detected occasions, participants later reported the words they heard in the audio feedback rather than the ones they actually stated. Since accuracy for the task was very high, the manipulated feedback was able to lead participants to believe that they had said the wrong word. In the end, the researchers discovered that participants actually accepted the manipulated feedback as self-produced in 85% of the non-detected trials.

Overall, this study shows that our understanding of our own speech, and our sense of awareness for those sounds, somewhat depend on inferences we’ve made after speaking. What came as a surprise is that even though the participants had many indications about what they really said from their tongue, jaw, and memory of the correct word, they still acted as if the manipulated words were self-produced. This proposes that the effect may be even greater in everyday conversation that is more ambiguous than the conditions of the Stroop test.

This can seem shocking, but who are we fooling in 2020? We know that memory, vision, and all sensory stimuli that we can think of are faulty. Our whole perception of the world is taken from objective facts but also created by subtle unconscious cues and inferences. Voice-over feedback adds to the pile of evidence that shows how malleable our ideas are. While this doesn’t mean we are delusional, it does serve as a warning to be cautious.

What Does This Mean For Me?

So, does this have any real-world application? Yes and no. If you’re working as a voice-over actor, for instance, you’re going to want to provide clear, objective work. That means that you’re going to have to be intimately acquainted with the way your voice sounds in recordings. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. It also means that your voice-over feedback needs to be perfect. While you’re not going to (hopefully) have crafty Swedish researchers trying to subtly deceive you,  you can still encounter shortcomings.

How so? Well, for instance, what comes out of your mouth and what the client hears need to be exactly the same thing. The takeaway from this study is that we can be remarkably confident in the reality of false perceptions. If you work as a recording artist, intent and results need to be the exact same thing. That means that the only valid voice-over feedback is going to be listening to your recordings over and over and over. No room for cherry-picking or surprise here; you need to know your voice well enough to bring perception and reality as close as possible 100% of the time (or close enough).

Of course, this applies if you’re a client as well. If you’re looking for a seasoned voice actor, how do you know they’ve got the goods? We’re all Pavarotti in the shower, but reality may beg to differ. Lucky for you, we’ve got the solution.

Pros That Know All About Voice-Over Feedback

To avoid any confusion, some companies have opted for video ads featuring voice-over work that coincides with on-screen text highlighting the major points of the campaign. If you’re looking for a voice-over actor who will be able to effectively convey your key message, Bunny Studio can help. Be sure to check out our vast assortment of voice over actors with experience in advertising.

No excuses here. We only hire actors who know their stuff, and that includes being very aware of their own voice-over feedback. While we’re all fond of well-meaning amateurs that can’t tell their voice from Morgan Freeman’s, we’re not into wasting your time. Our pros have put time and effort into understanding their voice and providing quality results. You’ll be able to browse a myriad of voices and approaches to find the ideal one for you. If you have an idea in mind, our pros can turn it into a reality — and not just into the “reality” they hear, but the one you need.