Is your favorite politician really as charismatic and likeable as you think, or is it all just an auditory illusion? That’s the basis of a recent study from the University of California, Los Angeles, which suggests that what a politician has to say isn’t nearly as important as the pitch in which he or she says it.

Manipulating one's voice in order to win over a crowd is far from a new tactic in the political world. President Barack Obama is regularly recognized for how easily he can win over a room using nothing but his words. Rosario Signorello, a postdoctoral scholar at UCLA’s Bureau of Glottal Affairs, was intrigued with how right-wing Italian politician Umberto Bossi went from being perceived as authoritarian to benevolent after suffering a speech impediment caused by a stroke. Prompted by this observation, Signorello led a study on the science of charismatic voices, concluding that charismatic voices are made up of two fundamental elements: one biological and one based on language and culture. The study will be presented at the 168th Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America.

In order to understand how the public perceives a voice without being distracted by what the voice was actually saying, the researcher and her team used a technique called "delexicalization." This made it possible to remove the subjective influence of a speech’s content and allowed the researchers to study the biological component of voice perception. "You get rid of the words and try to keep the acoustic parameters,” said Signorello, explaining the process in a recent press release.

The team compiled a selection of political speeches given by Italian, French, and Portuguese politicians. They then analyzed the speeches using delexicalization and received feedback from native speakers. From this, the team concluded that a listener will perceive a speaker with a low voice and a wide pitch range as dominant or attractive. Those who spoke with higher frequencies were instead viewed as submissive and benevolent, the BBC reported.

This voice perception, however, was found to differ based on the cultural preferences of the spoken language. The French participants preferred politicians with medium vocal pitches, while Italians had a preference for a much lower pitch in their politicians. "This function is learned, dependent on the languages that we speak and filtered by the culture one belongs to," Signorello told the BBC.

Purposely changing one's voice isn’t exactly a science and not guaranteed to end in the desired results, however. "Lowering the vocal pitch, or fundamental frequency, can help to convey dominance but also sexiness. And adding a harsh voice can help [you] to be perceived as a threat or as sexy,” Signorello said. Although there may not be a “general recipe” for making one’s voice well-liked by others, the study’s researchers concluded that people from every culture seem to have their own personal way of manipulating their voice in order to win over the crowd.