Understanding The Sound of Your Voice

One of the comments I hear from patients as they are being fit with hearing aids for the first time is “I can hear my own voice!” This is often said with some surprise. For most patients this is not a problem, as the awareness of their voice goes away quickly, often within the fitting session. For other folks there are a myriad of adjustments we can offer if the perception persists.

I recently came across a TED talk by an MIT researcher whose work involves how people perceive their own voices. Her work intrigued me – she explores the body mechanics that contribute to how we experience our voice.

Our voice is how we present ourselves to others, how we communicate. It is a gift we offer others; rarely do we use our voices for ourselves. Yet, many of us do not like the sound of our own voice when we hear it on a recording. We have, in fact, three “voices.” The outward voice is projected and heard by others. The inward voice is how we hear that expression. Finally, the inner voice is the silent voice we hear when we read or rehearse a conversation in our mind.

Why is our outward voice heard differently than our inward voice? Our bodies have a number of filters that modify how we hear our voice. First, the outward voice travels through the air, while the inward voice travels through our bones. This results in a bassier, more musical quality for the inward voice. Another filtering process is called habituation. Sound that we hear all the time stops grabbing our attention. That allows us to tune out the computer hum or fridge. Ironically, because of habituation, our own voice, the one we hear most often, is the one we consciously hear least. One more filter is neurologic: recent research suggests that when we open our mouths to vocalize our auditory cortex shuts down. Our auditory brain does not really listen to the sound of our own voice. From an evolutionary point of view, why waste energy analyzing sound when we know what we are going to say!

All these normal processes affect the new user of amplification. That voice we have habituated to is coming in amplified and new – we have not habituated to the new sound. But remember other people do not hear your voice differently. So don’t worry – you are not speaking loudly even if it seems so to you. With a little time and sometimes some tweaking, you will re-habituate, and you will again focus on listening fully to your friends and family, and not to your voice.

Helping you through this process is what we do here at McGuire’s. As you acclimate to your new hearing aids, we may make some personalized adjustments to help you along. These adjustments may relate to the physical device in your ear, or the acoustics that we have programmed for you. It is a work in progress, so what you need in the beginning may change as you adapt to the sounds around and within you. Whether or not we are hearing through a hearing loss, we have fascinating and flexible auditory systems to take in the sounds of our world.