Our Bodies Listen, Too

A few years ago, I listened to an interview with Mahzarin Banaji, one of the creators of Harvard’s Implicit Association Test. She told a fascinating story about a study that showed that our bodies better recognize the sound of our voices better than our conscious minds. I share this story often with my participants to illustrate what there is to gain by developing a more sensitive relationship to our bodies.

Here’s an excerpt from that interview:

“Ms. Banaji: … I knew that the fact of an unconscious appealed to me. I read studies, experiments done, where you can have people record words into a tape recorder. And then you can have them hear those words played back to them through headphones like I’m wearing now, except that they are the same words said by others. And you’re asked to identify the words that you’re hearing that were said by you in your voice versus words that were said by others. It turns out we’re not very good at doing that. We can’t tell our own voices apart from the voices of others.

“Ms. Tippett: Really?

“Ms. Banaji: We’re almost at chance at being able to do that. However, the investigators also hooked people up to a machine that, in those old days, measured physiology in sort of the crudest possible way: skin conductance. How much sweat do your fingers excrete when you hear your own voice versus the voice of others? And the data showed that you actually must be recognizing your own voice at some implicit or unconscious level because the skin conductance measure was much higher when you heard your own voice versus the voice of others. Even though cognitively you couldn’t tell the two apart. I was completely fascinated by this.”