Especially now that her fraud trial is underway, people are still talking about the long-standing speculation that Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of the disgraced blood-testing company Theranos, fakes her deep voice.
“What’s the over-under odds on whether or not Elizabeth Holmes uses her put-on, deep voice or her normal speaking voice in the trial?” one Twitter user wrote.
“If Elizabeth Holmes takes the stand and starts using a little girl’s voice, she will be my hero forever,” another person tweeted.
In 2019, Concordia University assistant professor of psychology Jillian O’Connor reflected on Holmes’ voice in an interview with The Cut.
“This whole [Holmes] situation, the image manipulation, dressing like Steve Jobs, trying to sound a particular way—it sounds like an awful lot went into facade,” O’Connor said. “Imagine the effort, the training, the strain, and the concentration that would take, day in and day out, just to control your voice while going about your everyday life.”
Is there proof of Elizabeth Holmes’ fake voice?
According to The Cut, videos of Holmes changing voices tend to disappear from YouTube shortly after going live. But one oft-cited example is a 2005 NPR interview in which Holmes seems to catch herself speaking at a higher register and shifts to a lower register mid-sentence. (Hear that moment in the video from The View below.)
“She had kind of let her guard down, is the theory here, so you suddenly hear something that’s a little bit more natural,” Tina Tallon, assistant professor of AI and the arts at the University of Florida, told WNYC’s On the Media last month.
“Of course, she realizes it and dips back into this deep baritone, but if you go and analyze this recording, there’s actually a disparity of about 100 hertz, which is a huge amount. That’s even more than Margaret Thatcher. That’s something that surely doesn’t just happen naturally.”
Speaking to ABC News in 2019, Ana Arriola, the former chief design architect for Theranos, recalled a time Holmes changed voices. “It was at one of the company parties, and she fell out of character and exposed that that wasn’t necessarily her true voice,” Arriola said.
And Stanford professor Phyllis Gardner, who met Holmes when the Theranos founder was a student, also witnessed a vocal shift. “When she came to me, she didn’t have a low voice. … It was just like a typical undergrad student,” Gardner told ABC News. “When I next saw her again was at the Harvard Medical School board meeting, where she was being introduced. She [spoke] in this low voice, and I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’”
Why did Elizabeth Holmes change her voice?
If Holmes is making her public voice deeper than her natural voice, it might be because she’s trying to project a powerful, dominant image.
“Some of the research we’ve worked on shows that when men and women deliberately lower their voices, it’s actually successful,” O’Connor told The Cut. “They do sound more dominant. They do sound more likely to be someone who’s in a position of power.”
Specifically, a study conducted by researchers in Canada and the United Kingdom and published in the journal Animal Behavior in 2013 found that “listeners interpreted lowered-pitch voices as sounding more dominant than habitually pitched voices in same-sex voices, which may aid in avoiding the costs associated with intrasexual competition.”