The effects of a railway announcement voice in the brain

In the Netherlands, there's a new railway announcement voice: Karin. The voice tells you everything you need to know during your trip. The voice automatically triggers something in you. That's why the NS (Dutch railway) wondered how people respond emotionally to Karins' voice. Continue and check how we discovered this by using fMRI.

Client Nederlandse-spoorwegen-NS-logo
Used techniques
fMRI
lees verder
"With the research done by Neurensics, we were able to look at the objective emotional response to Karins' voice. We came to the conclusion that the voice works even better than the voice of a beloved acquaintance. With this result in mind, we look forward to the introduction of the new railway announcement voice at the stations". Tim van Leeuwen, Head of Travel Management, NS

Karin, the new NS railway announcement voice

Karin, nieuwe NS stem

If you live in the Netherlands or have been traveling there by train, you might have heard it: Karin, the new railway announcement voice of the NS (Dutch railway). She now tells travelers from which track the train departs and at what time, but also if the train is cancelled and what's the alternative.

In short, it's the voice that NS travelers will hear the most. Therefore, it must be a voice that's easy on the ear. To investigate this, NS asked us to test the voice in the MRI scan. 

Research question NS

  • How is the voice objectively and automatically evaluated?
  • Which (unconscious) emotions are activated by the voice?

To answer these question, we studied respondents in the MRI scan while they listened to different voices telling different messages. With fMRI, it is possible to measure directly in the brain which emotions are activated.

The different messages

Three different messages were used in this study which were told by different voices:

  • Neutral message: the message tells people, for example, that the train to Hilversum and Amersfoort Central Station will also go to Apeldoorn.
  • Mildly negative message: in this message, the respondents heard that there are no trains between Utrecht Central Station and Schiphol Airport during the weekend due to engineering works. Closing with: Plan the trip in the app.
  • Negative message: in this message the respondents heard that the sprinter to Schiphol doesn't go at all and they're told when the next one will.

The different voices

In order to investigate how well or bad the new NS railway announcement voice is appreciated, we compared it to other voices:

  1. We asked the respondents in the study to let a mother, sister or friend record the same messages, or in other words a beloved ones' voice that is well appreciated.

  2. In the MRI scanner, the respondents also heard the messages of theother respondents' beloved ones, in other words an unknown voice.

So there were three voice categories that the respondents heard: Karin the new NS railway announcement voice, the well-known beloved voice and the unknown voice.

 

How are the voices emotionally evaluated?

The MRI results showed:

  1. Of the 3 tested voices, the NS railway announcement voice scored best on the balance of emotions: more positive than negative emotions were activated. The voice was attractive and scored above average on Attention and Novelty. This shows that the new voice attracts sufficient attention, which is important for a railway announcement voice. 

  2. The beloved ones' voice activated a high feeling of reward (Value) and it also scored high on excitement (Lust). This makes sense, since you hear a familiar person talking. What is remarkable is that the familiar voice scored low on Trust. This may have to do with the fact that you don't expect your loved one to know anything about the train situations. You may find a familiar voice pleasant to listen to, but it doesn't make it a good railway announcement voice.

  3. The unfamiliar voice had an average score on the emotions (about equally positive and negative) and on feelings of reward (Value), Involvement and Familiarity.

    These results show that Karins' voice is a good railway announcement voice. The voice activates more positive than negative emotions, knows how to attract attention and the voice is attractive.

 

How did Karins' voice score compared to the other voices?

Karins' voice versus a familiar voice

If we compare the results of Karins' voice to the voice of a beloved one, the differences are clearly visible:

  • Karins' voice scores significantly higher on Attention, Novelty, Desire and Trust.

  • In addition, Karins' voice scores significantly lower on Disgust and Danger.

  • The beloved ones' voice scores better on the feeling of reward (Value) and Involvement than Karins' voice. The same applies to excitement (Lust).

    Compared to a beloved ones' voice, Karins' voice is more impactful and appealing. It arouses more Trust and less negative emotions.

Case NS stem vs bekende

Case NS stem vs. onbekende stem



Karins' voice versus an unfamiliar voice

Compared to the unfamiliar voice, it's striking that the voice of Karin is again found significantly more attractive (more Desire) and activated fewer negative emotions (low Anger and Disgust).

The unfamiliar voice did score slightly higher on Expectation and Involvement.

This again shows that Karins' voice is attractive. In addition, Karins' voice is able to soften negative emotions. This is of course very important for an NS railway announcement voice, given the nature of its messages (delays, maintenance, track changes, etc.).

Conclusion

  1. Karins' voice activated unique effects in the brain (see image below): the negative emotions are activated less  strongly than when the messages are spoken by a beloved ones' voice and an unfamiliar voice. Considering that the NS railway announcement voice has to announce delays, maintenance and track changes, this is a very positive result.

  2. In addition, the NS railway announcement voice is also more attractive than a beloved ones' voice and an unfamiliar voice. This shows that the NS railway announcement voice activated the best balance of emotions.  


    Karins' voice is emotionally well appreciated, is attractive and soothes negative emotions. These results indicate that the voice is a very good choice and will do her future work very well. 

 

NS nieuwe stem Karin - Hoe ziet dit eruit in het brein

The red areas reflect mainly negative emotions. The blue areas reflect positive emotions. The NS railway announcement voice causes less  activity in the red areas.

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