Body size conveyed by voice determines vocal attractiveness

April 24, 2013

Deep male voices and high-pitched female voices are perceived as more attractive because listeners gauge the speaker's body size from the frequency of their voice, according to research published April 24 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Yi Xu from University College London (UK) and colleagues.

Studies of animals and birds reveal that listeners can perceive a caller's body size and intension based on the frequency, voice quality and formant spacing of a call. For example, low frequency growls are more likely to indicate larger body size, dominance or a potential attack, while higher frequency and pure-tone-like sounds suggest smaller size, submissiveness and fear.

The researchers tested whether a similar principle applied to human vocal attractiveness by asking male volunteers to listen to a female voice that was systematically altered for pitch, voice quality and formant spacing to signal a smaller body size. Female listeners heard a male voice that had been similarly altered to indicate a larger body size. Results showed that male listeners preferred female voices with high pitch, breathy voice and wide formant spacing that correlated with a smaller body size, while females preferred to hear low-pitched with low pitch and narrow formant spacing that suggested larger body size. But surprisingly, female listeners also preferred male voices that are breathy, which presumably softened the associated with a large body size. The authors conclude that despite the development of complex language, human vocal interactions still employ certain animal instincts.

Explore further: People prefer leaders with more masculine voices, even in feminine leadership roles

More information: Xu Y, Lee A, Wu W-L, Liu X, Birkholz P (2013) Human Vocal Attractiveness as Signaled by Body Size Projection. PLoS ONE 8(4): e62397. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0062397

Related Stories

Deep male voice helps women remember

September 12, 2011

Men take note: If you want women to remember, speak to them in a low pitch voice. Then, depending on what they remember about you, they may or may not rate you as a potential mate. That's according to a new study by David ...

Recommended for you

The birth of politics in children—the case of dominance

September 26, 2016

As they grow up, do children become young Robin Hoods? Depending on their age, they do not allocate resources in the same way between dominant and subordinate individuals. Thus a tendency towards egalitarianism develops and ...

Oxytocin enhances spirituality, new study says

September 21, 2016

Oxytocin has been dubbed the "love hormone" for its role promoting social bonding, altruism and more. Now new research from Duke University suggests the hormone may also support spirituality.

Study reveals a biological link between stress and obesity

September 21, 2016

Metabolic and anxiety-related disorders both pose a significant healthcare burden, and are in the spotlight of contemporary research and therapeutic efforts. Although intuitively we assume that these two phenomena overlap, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.