July 17, 2005, Updated May 27, 2014

They say that first impressions can often be misleading. But Israeli researcher Dr. Yoram Levanon believes that listening to someone for only 30 seconds can tell you everything you need to know.

Using a unique new tool for analyzing the human voice that Levanon has developed with his partner, Dr. Lan Lossos, a half a minute of speech is plenty.

In that small span of time, he says, he’s able to outline the speaker’s basic personality, likes and dislikes, and can even detect whether or not they have a learning disability or developmental disorder. In time, he says, he will even be able to tell if the speaker might be suffering from a disease – before any symptoms have appeared.

Potentially, this means that a telemarketer could someday get a quick and accurate idea as to what kind of a person they are speaking with on the phone, and thus, the best way to sell them a given product.

This would all sound far-fetched, coming from someone without serious credentials to back it up. And Levanon is a veteran Israeli marketing expert, with a long resume behind his newly patented ideas, which he has recently made public after six years of work. He’s now in the process of creating three start-up companies to develop what he is calling the ‘Emotional Marketing Method.’

Levanon’s marketing consulting firm, MSR Communications is located in the bustling business district of Ramat Gan. He works behind a desk piled high with paper from his numerous projects. Above it hangs a fingerpainting by his one-year-old granddaughter. “It’s a castle she made for Grandpa,” he proudly tells ISRAEL21c.

Levanon, born and raised in Tel Aviv, holds advanced degrees in theoretical physics and operations research. His early expertise was applying mathematical models to management science – helping executives make decisions based on the best data possible.

Levanon first put his ideas to work in the Israeli Air Force during his army service, developing new weapons and methods of training soldiers to use them. After his service and while completing his doctorate, he worked in police intelligence.

Applying his scientific knowledge to the business world, Levanon became the vice president of a software company, and then became the chief scientist of the Eisenberg Group. In 1989, he left and formed his own marketing consultancy. At the same time he continued in academia, and is a senior lecturer in marketing at Bar Ilan University and in business administration at Netanya Academic College.

Levanon attributes the origins of his current project to a major shift in his philosophical orientation which occurred seven years ago.

“The focus of my work has always been decision-making,” he explains. “But until seven years ago, I always concentrated exclusively on rational decision-making. But I came to the point where I knew I wanted to understand and focus on emotional decision-making.”

He made the switch from the rational to the emotional when he realized that this is where the most powerful decision-making takes place.

“We make our first instinctive decisions in the first fifth of a second. It’s a lot longer before the cognitive decision takes place.”

Marketing research has shown, he says that an ’emotional relationship’ is created between a person and something they experience – a sound, a word, a picture, a person they meet, within these first milliseconds, while the cognitive wheels only begin turning after half a second. The focus of his work has been trying to identify and harness this quick and powerful emotional decision-making system, to figure out how best to influence people.

Lassos, Levanon’s partner in this endeavor, bounds energetically into his office when he calls her in to help explain the system they have devised to do this. They are an unlikely pair – the grandfatherly Levanon, and Lossos, who is young, dynamic, with short-cropped hair and multiple earrings piercing her earlobe. But they are very much a team – finishing one another’s sentences.

Her psychology and scientific expertise complements his experience in business and marketing research. Lossos was born in Lithuania and moved to Israel when she was six years old. Despite her youthful appearance, she holds a PhD. in neuropsychology from Hebrew University, and has worked as a copy writer in an ad agency. Now she is combining her work with Levanon with post-doctoral study at Harvard University.

Levanon and Losso began sorting people into emotional decision-making ‘types’ which affects the way in which they sort information. Levanon became ‘anti-Darwinist’ in deciding that not everybody is motivated strictly by survival concerns. He identified three basic motivating factors and says that they have different levels in different people.

“Why do babies cry? Because they are in trouble, in danger and need help surviving. Or because they are uncomfortable and want a state of familiarity and comfort. Or because they are bored and want attention and entertainment.”

These are also what drives adults he believes – and studies have shown through brain scan that the brain emits different hormones for different states – adrenaline when we are afraid and threatened, Acetylcholine when we are in a routine comfort state, and dopamine when we are interested and intrigued by something.

Our differing limbic systems, he theorizes, divide us in to three basic types – survivalists, homeostatists, and growth-oriented – what they call S, H, and G values. We are all combinations of the three, but he believes that in everybody, one type dominates.

Knowing the levels of ‘S,H, and G’ in each person, Levanon says, is the key to knowing what kind of advertising or marketing approach will have an effect on them.

Levanon came to these conclusions using thousands of questionnaires. But he was looking for a short-cut, theorizing that if these personality types are based on biochemical reactions, there should be a way to measure them physically.

He first ruled out looking at body language, because recording it was complicated, and people are more conscious of how they look and often manipulate their movements. But the voice – not what you say, but how you say it – turns out, he believes, to be a good way to measure a person’s basic emotional personality.

Levanon and Lossos thus developed a way in which to map 30 seconds of speech on an electronic graph, and quickly identify which of his basic personality categories they fall into. The potential for the sales field and telemarketers is unlimited, as Tomer Chen discovered.
Tomer Chen, former Microsoft marketing manager for small and medium-sized business customers conducted an experiment for Levanon, and found that using his approach, he could double sales, compared with control group that did not use the ‘eemotional marketing’ technique.

He told the financial daily Globes “we knew how to approach customers, we kept them from procrastinating. We gave them confidence in buying by appealing to needs to which they were naturally inclined. The ratio was almost six to one.”

Lossos and Levanon are most excited about an aspect of their research that they stumbled upon by accident. It happened when they were exploring the use of their voice analysis for potential application in a dating service.

“We found a disruption in the profiles that were falling into the same pattern,” said Lossos. “It turned out that all of the disruptions were people who were dyslexic. You could tell by their voices. Dyslexics can’t hear some frequencies well, and that affects the way that they speak.”

Levanon calls this a “fascinating breakthrough” with tremendous potential: finding concrete clues to disabilities, developmental disorders and medical conditions through the voice.

“We are already working with several medical and research centers to explore this further,” he says. “We are working with the Weizmann Institute on autism, with the cardiology department in Meir Hospital regarding detection of heart disease, and with Hadassah Hospital on using our technique for early diagnosis of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, and with Sheba hospital on schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder.”

One of the start-up companies he is creating will be devoted to harnessing his technique for medical applications. The second will be oriented towards human resources – helping companies sort workers into the jobs best suited to their personality types, and a third will focus on the telemarketing applications.

You don’t need a graph to sense how charged and excited Levanon and Lossos are about the potential of their work to contribute to numerous fields. Without measuring it, you can hear it in their voices.

More on People

Fighting for Israel's truth

We cover what makes life in Israel so special — it's people. A non-profit organization, ISRAEL21c's team of journalists are committed to telling stories that humanize Israelis and show their positive impact on our world. You can bring these stories to life by making a donation of $6/month. 

Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

Read more: