freeze! how low can you go?

September 18, 2011 § 1 Comment

Recently the media have been reporting on voice studies showing that women prefer deep masculine voices. Well this might be a given but perhaps the assumptions hidden in the research should be teased out.

As usual the non-social scientists link gender preferences and the like to a project of evolution. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for evolution … more of it I say. The voice research reported such as this in the Belfast Telegraph links this to partner choice.  Women, they report, are evaluating genetic health of men by their voices.  So presumably the women tested were self-identifying heterosexual women. This is not stated in the media article, nor whether they were in the age-band for reproductivity.


A more fun experiment was conducted Puts Gaulin and Verdolini (2005) reported in Evolution and Human Behaviour had the experiment subjects participate in a mock dating game!!!

The developmental and anatomical causes of human voice sexual dimorphisms are known, but the evolutionary causes are not. Some evidence suggests a role of intersexual selection via female mate choice, but other evidence implicates male dominance competition. In this study, we examine the relationships among voice pitch, dominance, and male mating success. Males were audio recorded while participating in an unscripted dating-game scenario. Recordings were subsequently manipulated in voice pitch using computer software and then rated by groups of males for dominance. Results indicate that (1) a masculine, low-pitch voice increases ratings of men’s physical and social dominance, augmenting the former more than the latter; and (2) men who believe they are physically dominant to their competitor lower their voice pitch when addressing him, whereas men who believe they are less dominant raise it. We also found a nonsignificant trend for men who speak at a lower pitch to report more sexual partners in the past year. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that male intrasexual competition was a salient selection pressure on the voices of ancestral males and contributed to human voice sexual dimorphism

What is interesting about the voice studies is that they covertly acknowledge social influences – men who believed they were less dominant raised their voices. This surely is a social judgement on the part of the male subjects of the experiment. Are they not reverting to social stereotypes due to lack of more information about the males?

What is also interesting about the dimorphism of the human voice with respect to sex/gender is that the differentials between adult male and female voices are culturally conditioned. The pitch differences in Japanese gendered voices are far greater than European voice pitch differences. How would an evolutionary account explain this?


§ One Response to freeze! how low can you go?

  • I wonder if there was there a similar experiment by Puts Gaulin and Verdolini for the female voice. Seriously sometimes I stumble across the weirdest experiments, I like the funny ones though! Are they not reverting to social stereotypes due to lack of more information about the males? This is a great question you raised, a lot of times these experiments are so biased and don’t raise additional questions to make their answers seem objective!

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