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SOUNDS ODD  by Elizabeth Holmes
Fun Facts on the Science of Sound
#13. Should You Hope To Be Last?

Ever wonder where your audition ended up in the queue of other submissions for that job? After reading this article, you may hope that yours was last!  

Today’s "Sounds Odd” article comes from a study published in Psychological Science, the journal of the Association of Psychological Science. University of Michigan psychologist Ed O’Brien and his colleague Phoebe C. Ellsworth set out to find out if people might judge everyday "last” events more positively because they signal the end of an experience. 

Their study was based on taste preferences (specifically, the taste of chocolate), but their conclusions appear to apply to any choice. 

Voice actors take note: Auditions are a choice on the part of the voice seeker.  


How did researchers study the "Last Is Best” syndrome?  

O’Brien and Ellsworth gave 52 male and female students a chocolate taste test involving five different flavors of Hershey’s Kisses. Experimenters told participants that the Kisses were "made from local ingredients” (a faux reason for the test), and asked them to rate taste on a scale of one (super yuck) to ten (super yum). 

Chocolates were milk, dark, crème, caramel and almond, and experimenters gave them to participants in random order. 


After tasting all of the chocolates, each participant was asked to select a favorite.

As they received the candy, some of the participants were told, ”Here is the next chocolate” on every chocolate. Alternatively, other participants were told "Here is the last chocolate” on the final chocolate.  

Significantly, "next” participants chose their last chocolate only 22% of the time. (Chance is 1 in 5, or 20%.) On the other hand, "last” participants chose the last chocolate 64% of the time.  (Roughly three times chance.)  


As to the ‘why’ behind these results… 

The authors of the study observe that awareness of endings shifts attention toward positive features of an experience, away from negative features, and promotes savoring of final moments. 

Study author O’Brien also says "It’s motivational. You think: ‘I might as well reap the benefits of this experience, even though it’s going to end.” 

After all, you just did all of that work. Making the last part matter justifies the whole process.   

The authors postulate several implications of this last-is-best bias: Research subjects may give overly positive responses on the last tasks of experiments.
  • The last book in a series may receive unwarranted praise.
  • The last speaker at a symposium may be seen as more interesting.
  • The last papers to be graded may seem better.
  • The last job applicant may look especially qualified.  

Why does this matter to voice actors? I can think of two reasons:  

1. Timing your audition to be the last in series of equal submissions makes it more likely that your audition will be chosen. (Caveat: Voice seekers have to know it’s the last one.)  

2. If you self-direct
and do several takes on a script, you’ll be more likely to choose your own last effort, whether or not it’s actually the best. Awareness of this bias may help you listen more objectively.  

So go ahead – savor those final moments. And if possible, make sure you leave a lasting, favorable impression in the minds of those who may choose you for their next voice over project.    

This article was adapted from Saving the Last for Best: A Positivity Bias for End Experiences, by Ed O’Brien and Phoebe C. Ellsworth and What Kind of Chocolate Is Best?  The Last You Taste, Says New Study. Science Daily February 8, 2012.   

Elizabeth Holmes is a writer, voice actor, and staff editor at VoiceOverXtra, based in Northern California. She is also editor of VoiceOverXtra's book division, including Voice Over Legal, by voice actor / attorney Robert Sciglimpaglia.


Earlier Sounds Odd Columns:

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Comments (2)
John Lano
5/6/2013 at 1:06 PM
I LOVE this post, Elizabeth!

Anything psychological gets my juices flowing... That's such an interesting phenomenon, though. Why is it that our brains think the last one is best? Is there some evolutionary reason?

Anyway, keep it up! If you or the VoiceOverXtra readers are interested, I combine psychology, voice over, and business in my blog every week:
5/1/2013 at 2:05 AM
The "last" is ALWAYS best! Everyone knows that, eh? Just by virtue of being the "last" one, it's always the "best."

In screening models for a photo shoot, you always remember the "last" ones best! That's because #3 out of 300...well, she's a distant memory. Even if you have her photo, you can't remember her personally. Happened to me many times.

Thus the last voice audition has a GREAT chance. However, there's also the "fatigue" factor. After listening to 30 auditions ...with prospects of listening to 30 more...there is the temptation on the part of the auditioner to say, "Oh, just pick one!"

That can be a real bummer for #60! Thanks for your work, Elizabeth!
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