Is It What You Say or How You Say It?

4.2 based on 10 ratings

Updated on Jan 13, 2014

Grade Level: 6th to 8th; Type: Psychology


The purpose of this experiment is to evaluate whether tone of voice can influence test subjects’ ability to remember a list of everyday objects.

Research Questions:

  • How does your tone of voice influence others’ ability to remember what you say?
  • Do people have an easier time remembering things that were said to them with an upbeat tone of voice?

Your voice can be a powerful tool. When it comes to making an impact on people, how we say things may actually be more important than what we say. This experiment will evaluate this premise by investigating how tone influences people’s short-term memory.


  • Large index cards
  • Pictures of everyday objects (eg, cut from a catalogue, printed from a website, etc…)
  • Scissors
  • Glue or tape
  • Software for recording audio
  • Several similarly-aged volunteers, both male and female
  • Notebook for recording data

Experimental Procedure

  1. Create flashcards with 20 everyday images (eg, stapler, doorknob, toothpaste). Images should all be approximately the same size.
  2. Make two voice recordings for each image. One recording should have a person naming the object in the picture using a monotone voice. In the next recording, the same person should name the object, this time using an upbeat, excited tone.
  3. Show a test subject each image while they also listen to the recorded voice that tells them what is in the picture (either the monotone or upbeat voice should be selected for each image).
  4. Record which tone was selected for each image.
  5. For each test subject, vary which recorded tone you use for each image. Always have 10 images that use the monotone description and 10 that use the upbeat tone.
  6. After one hour, ask the test subject to list all of the images that they saw.
  7. Repeat steps 3-6 for many test subjects. Include an equal number of male and female participants. Test subjects should all be in the same age group.
  8. Analyze your data. How many of the first 10 images listed by each test subject were described with an upbeat tone? How many were described with the monotone voice?

Terms/Concepts: How does human memory work?; What is tone of voice?

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