Why Apple’s Siri feature has a female voice

Tue, Nov 8, 2011


It many not have as may voice options as Android or a variety of standalone GPS units, but Siri has quickly become a beloved part of the iPhone 4S experience. Siri has inexplicably taken on a life of its own with users quick to talk about Siri, albeit jokingly, as a good friend. Not surprisingly, people gravitate towards humor and some of the canned answers Siri provides to certain questions have helped the feature become a household name. Okay, maybe that’s stretching things a bit, but I’m continuously amazed at how interested iPhone 4S users are in the feature and how they delight in showing Siri off to their friends.

Siri’s personality, so to speak, wasn’t accidental. The Siri team acquired by Apple, along with Apple’s iOS engineers, worked hard to to personalize the feature to help create an emotional bond with users. Again, this is why Siri has a little bit of sass under the hood. To wit, asking Siri to tell you a dirty joke might elicit a suggestion to “vacuum your apartment”. Similarly, Apple paid attention to even the tiniest details. That’s why when you ask Siri a question it responds with “Let me check on that” as opposed to a screen that simply says “loading”.

It’s the small things like that that really addd up.

All that said, is it a coincidence that the voice of Siri is a female?

It doesn’t look like it.

Indeed, many automated voices take on a female cadence, though Siri, oddly enough, comes with a male voice in France and the UK. Perhaps there’s some sociological explanation to that, but for now, why is Siri a female?

The answer may be rooted in biology, according to a recent CNN article.

“It’s much easier to find a female voice that everyone likes than a male voice that everyone likes,” said Stanford University Professor Clifford Nass, author of “The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What Machines Teach Us About Human Relationships.” “It’s a well-established phenomenon that the human brain is developed to like female voices.”

Research suggests this preference starts as early as the womb, Nass said. He cites a study in which fetuses were found to react to the sound of their mother’s voice but not to other female voices. The fetuses showed no distinct reaction to their father’s voice, however.

History may also play a role, the article notes. After all, the use of female voices for navigation systems goes as far back as World War II. Further, the automated voices used by phone companies have historically been female as well. As a result, people may generally feel more comfortable with an automated female voice simply because that’s what they’re used to.

Related: Why Siri’s limited functionality works to its advantage



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