So You Want to Be A Scientist 2012 Experiments - Faces and Voices

Original Idea

William Rudling

Name: William Rudling

Occupation: Illustrator

Age: 69

Location: Leeds

Question: Do people who look the same, also sound the same?


Over his career as an illustrator, William started to notice that people with similar facial features also had similar voices.

Does the internal structure of our skull and muscle tissue influence the sound of our voice, akin to a musical instrument?

Dame Judi Dench and Samantha Bond

Judi Dench and Samantha Bond - similar faces and voices? Credit: William Rudling


There are signs of a link between face similarity and voice similarity, but that this is a very small effect and may be quite variable from face to face. Overall success rate of assigning faces to voices was 60.6%.

There was a clear link between people's rating of how similar female faces are to each other in this experiment. The equivalent measures for male speakers suggested no such link.

If we set aside the idea that some face/voice pairs would just be easier to identify than others, then there is still a significant effect of face similarity in predicting how good people were at matching faces to voices.

In this analysis gender of the voice, and where the person doing the task was from, were not significant factors. We suspect the clear result is because we have a lot of data, but the effect seems to be a small one.

Designing the Experiment

Working with his mentor, Dr Paul Carter, William designed an online experiment to find out if people can match the right face to the right voice.

Ten male and female volunteers aged 18-25 from Yorkshire were photographed and recorded reciting the same passage. These files were used in their interactive experiment to test William's hypothesis.

Data Gathering

William and Paul gathered data for their study at the Bang Goes the Theory roadshow in Sheffield from 5-7 May 2012, where 885 people took part in their test.

The team later launched a national online experiment to further their research, which was completed by 2,258 participants.

Follow William's Research Diary on Facebook

To talk to William and Paul about their experiment, click 'like' to follow their Facebook research diary.

Scientific Mentor

Paul Carter

Dr Paul Carter
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
University of Leeds
Speciality: Phonetics

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