Many of us are familiar with the feeling of having a frog in your throat when you start talking. Now, an interesting new study from the University of Missouri says that the reason behind this could be stress, which prevents us from speaking clearly or really being able to control our voice. The study presents the so-called “Theory of Voice Disorder Traits” and finds that stress-induced brain activations may lead to voice disorders such as muscular tension dysphonia, which will occur due to excessive or altered muscular tension in the voice box or around it. This will of course change the sound that is produced.
“For many, public speaking can be a stressful situation,” says Maria Dietrich, director of the Control and Vocal Welfare Laboratory at the University of Missouri. “We know that stress can trigger physiological changes such as muscle tension and that can affect our speech. The new findings will help researchers better understand the relationship between stress and vocal control and allow us to identify brain activations that affect voices to identify better treatments for disorders.“
The study was conducted as follows: women were asked to prepare a five-minute speech on-the-fly about why they were the best person for a certain job. Then, the researches analyzed saliva samples to detect cortisol, which is the body’s main stress hormone. They also used MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) to see what the brain was doing at different times.
Dietrich found that there were many interesting differences and commonalities in brain activity and the results of how the participants did. Those participants who had higher levels of cortisol showed brain activity that affected the larynx, and overall did noticeably worse than participants who did not show high stress levels. See the results of the study here.
“Our findings are consistent with the theories of vocal traits related to personality,” says Dietrich. “Those who are more introverted are more likely to have stress reactions that involve speech and their brains are recording that stress, which could affect their vocal control.” The expert advises that to speak in public successfully, one should not be thinking about the fact that the speaker is being judged, and to relax as if you are the only one in the room.