New study shows speakers appear more intelligent than writers

UChicago professor Nicholas Epley and Ph.D. candidate Juliana Schroeder released a new study titled “The Sound of Intellect.”

By Anne Nazzaro

Hearing a person speak makes the listener view him or her as more intelligent than if they read the same words in writing, according to a study published by University of Chicago professor Nicholas Epley and Ph.D. candidate Juliana Schroeder this month in the journal Physiological Science.

“A person’s voice, through speech, conveys conscious thinking as it’s happening,” said Epley, a professor of behavioral science at the Booth School of Business. “This led us to wonder whether a person’s voice actually communicates the presence of his or her mind more clearly than other…media.”

In the study, titled “The Sound of Intellect,” Epley and Schroeder tested their hypothesis through a series of elevator pitches. They had M.B.A. students give two-minute elevator pitches to their top-choice employer on why they should be hired. Evaluators either heard recordings of the pitches, watched videos, or read transcripts.

Evaluators who listened to the recordings or watched the videos rated their employees to be more “competent, thoughtful, and intelligent” than evaluators who read the transcripts, according to the study. Evaluators also stated that they were more likely to hire the people whose pitches they heard than the people whose pitches they only read.

The researchers first tested this hypothesis with inexperienced evaluators and then with a group of professional job recruiters. The experienced recruiters reported the same evaluations—they were more likely to hire someone whose pitch they heard rather than read.

According to Schroeder, the candidates tested in the study did not expect these results. “They think they will be judged the same, regardless of whether they are writing or talking,” she said.

Schroeder and Epley have a longer paper in the works to investigate why speaking makes a better impression than writing. “I definitely plan to work on this topic for a long time,” said Schroeder. “It’s fascinating.”