Vocal fry: another source of implicit bias?

This was something new for me, and when I heard the piece on NPR’s This American Life podcast http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/545/if-you-dont-have-anything-nice-to-say-say-it-in-all-caps?act=2 it talks about “vocal fry” and the criticism of its use is leveled mostly at younger women, and their demographics seem to indicate that the use of it bothers “older people” most (to the point of distraction and anger!).  I’m in the “older people” category and I just couldn’t hear it—I like the NPR women reporters who have apparently been accused of speaking this way, so I figured I had to find out more. Faith Salie gives more examples https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEqVgtLQ7qM that finally clarified what I should look for in the phenomenon.  My next question was, do I do this?  I am not beyond imitating speech patterns of those I listen to (I had a roommate from Boston in college, and I picked up on her affectations; as a language major, it was always my job to listen and imitate), but TV shows they mention as a source of this type of speaking (Kardashians, the Bachelor, etc.) are not ones I’m exposed to.  

As part of the interview process, people give seminars, talk to potential co-workers, and interact with the search committee. Can ways of speaking (think previous Valley Girl-speak equating to vapidness; styles peppering “um” with every other word with being less than self-confident) also be used to bias people in the workplace? 

To be fair, apparently this phenomenon of vocal fry is not exclusively female (plenty of men do it too, but it is perhaps more expected to hear it in a male voice), but the men are not criticized for it in the same way.  

At the 2015 ESA meeting in Minneapolis with the TriSocieties, there will be a symposium focusing on implicit bias on Tuesday afternoon. Do you know of anyone qualified to speak on this topic? Do you know more or have opinions about how this or any other types of speech affect credibility and/or ability to be hired in the sciences or elsewhere?



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  • I had not heard of it either and don't notice it in people at least not until now. I think if men and women do it but only women are criticized for it, it is definitely sexism, whether subconscious or not. I don't find it bothersome in men or in women. I do find the Valley Girl speak annoying, but I find that irritating in men and women. I do agree the criticism there is almost exclusively focused at young women too, hmm. I think I probably have an implicit bias towards those that have Valley Girl speak and in a negative way. I think being aware of it and consciously trying to change my perceptions and feelings when they come up is the only thing I can do about it. When these negative feelings about people come up we can stop and consider the validity of these feelings and the facts of the situation and evaluate it logically. This has solved many issues that weren't really issues for me.

    The first impressions you give through speech and body language definitely have implications on whether you are hired or not, but what one generation views as professional, another might not. I would say it's always important to research the company and who will be interviewing you if possible. That way you can be aware of what would potentially give the best impression and try to be aware of generational differences. I would encourage those interviewing to be aware of this also and be open minded about a person's abilities based on more than their voice.

    I find it interesting that people get so upset about this. I find Garrison Keillor's voice annoying, but I don't feel the need to contact NPR and tell him about it. He's very breathy and slow and it drives me a little bit nuts. My husband finds him soothing though.There's just no pleasing everybody all at the same time. It's impossible. I think those girls should try to ignore the criticism and realize that there is always someone who will find fault. 

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