U.S. Supreme Court - The FindLaw U.S. Supreme Court Opinion Summaries Blog

Study Finds Secrets Hidden in Justices' Vocal Pitch

According to a new study, you can tell when judges are likely to rule against you by the pitch in their voices.

The higher the pitch, the higher the chances you are going to lose. It has something to do with the emotions signaled through the vocal chords.

It makes sense when you consider people often raise their voices when they are irritated. But what if the judges don't say anything?

Supreme Voices

In a paper by professors at Harvard and the University of Iowa, the authors say they analyzed 502 hours of recordings from oral arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court. That included 1,773 cases from 1982 to 2014.

Using a speech synthesis program, they graded the differences in each justice's pitch when they talked to lawyers before the court. They used the differences to calculate an average pitch.

The professors said that a higher vocal pitch correlated with a greater emotional response. That translated to votes against the lawyers on the receiving end.

"They were able to predict 57.5 percent of justices' votes accurately and 66.55 percent of overall case outcomes accurately using only pitch difference," the ABA Journal reported.

More Than 50/50

With accurate predictions about two-thirds of the time, the authors have something to crow about. They claim a connection between voice and emotional decisions.

"For the justices, emotional arousal may be more likely when interacting with someone with whom they disagree," the professors say. "When this occurs, the heart begins to race, palms begin to sweat, and all muscles, including the vocal cords, tighten."

None of the researchers have practiced law, however. Not that it matters, but anybody who has been to court knows that some judges raise their voices all the time.

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