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Psycasm is the exploration of the world psychological. Every day phenomenon explained and manipulated to one's own advantage. Written by a slightly overambitious undergrad, Psycasm aims at exploring a whole range of social and cognitive processes in order to best understand how our minds, and those mechanisms that drive them, work.

My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

[Wherein our Hero discusses why you should be doing voice excercises as well as your morning push-ups]

The study I’m running is finally about to get underway. We didn’t completely solve the ‘true magnitude sexy’ problem, but we decided to add a few measures to try and explain it a little better.

How’d we do that? Well, we’re kind of employing the same methodology to participant’s voice. This particular little trick does have its own problems (you don’t hear your own voice as it actually is), but we can manipulate change in the voice to true and objective measures (i.e. percentage change in pitch).

What, might you ask, does voice have to do with it? We can all fairly readily accept that a guy with a strong jaw line and big hands is probably dripping with testosterone. They’re the kind of guy, nice as they might be, whom we quietly make the mental note: don’t get into a fight with him. Big muscles, too, we accept as a fairly decent sign of masculinity. Now you ladies might argue – no, muscles and big hands are passé and crass, I like my man to be sensitive and emotional – but, from everything I’ve read, there’s still a little part of you that loves Mark Wahlberg for those very reasons – and not his apparent boyishness and performing talent.

Women just want to cuddle him,

Men just want to avoid a punch-up.


But there are many other cues that suggest what constitutes a good choice in mate - voice quality among them. It has been demonstrated that women who prefer more masculine faces also prefer more masculine voices (Feinberg and friends, 2008), but also that a more masculine voice predicts a more masculine face (Vukovic and colleagues, 2010).

You know, this makes sense. I’m not a tall guy, but I’ve got a decent jaw-line and reasonable degree of a muscle. Where my height fails to make predictions about my inner-qualities, other characteristics pick up the slack. And when it comes to mate selection, it’s an arms race between every guy out there (or perhaps, every guy in the room) – how does a woman pick the best mate (in any species)? Well, it’s multiply determined – and if you’re lucky enough to have the whole suite: voice, jaw, muscles, height, and everything else, well… never fear, I probably don’t want to fight you…

Which is interesting, because Watkins and others (2010) have shown that taller men (height being an excellent predictor of dominance) are less sensitive to cues of dominance and masculinity in less dominant men. Which might lend a little bit of scientific cred to the whole ‘Napoleon Complex’, whereby men who perceive themselves as inferior (usually due to their height) strive to over compensate to prove their own dominance and status.

But you can’t manipulate height anymore than you can manipulate your jaw-line, and unlike muscles (which takes weeks to manipulate) you can change the pitch of your voice in a flash. In fact, we all have a natural range of vocal pitch that we can manipulate over tiny spans of time (the length of a single syllable, for example). So it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that Hughes, Farley, & Rhodes (2010) have found that, when men talk to an attractive opposite-sex partner, they actually lower the pitch of their voice. Though this is not usually perceptible (one of its very subtle strengths), when independent raters could tell the difference they rated the lowered pitch as being more pleasant.

So here’s hoping that this new measures bears upon the face manipulation, and lends a bit of extra power to the study. But for every other guy out there doing their daily push-ups and sit-ups, you might consider a few vocal exercises that generally lower the pitch of your voice. Considering when you’re anxious or stressed the pitch of your voice increases (first phone call for a date, anyone?) you should be pulling in all the biological favours that you can.


Hughes, S., Farley, S., & Rhodes, B. (2010). Vocal and Physiological Changes in Response to the Physical Attractiveness of Conversational Partners Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 34 (3), 155-167 DOI: 10.1007/s10919-010-0087-9

Watkins, C., Fraccaro, P., Smith, F., Vukovic, J., Feinberg, D., DeBruine, L., & Jones, B. (2010). Taller men are less sensitive to cues of dominance in other men Behavioral Ecology, 21 (5), 943-947 DOI: 10.1093/beheco/arq091

Feinberg, D., DeBruine, L., Jones, B., & Little, A. (2008). Correlated preferences for men's facial and vocal masculinity Evolution and Human Behavior, 29 (4), 233-241 DOI: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2007.12.008

Vukovic, J., Jones, B., DeBruine, L., Feinberg, D., Smith, F., Little, A., Welling, L., & Main, J. (2010). Women's own voice pitch predicts their preferences for masculinity in men's voices Behavioral Ecology, 21 (4), 767-772 DOI: 10.1093/beheco/arq051

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Blog Comments

Guest Comment

well written article dude, interesting stuff

i have a theory women raise the pitch of their voice around members of the opposite sex - is that true?


Guest Comment

"They’re the kind of guy, nice as they might be, whom we quietly make the mental note: don’t get into a fight with him"

I totally do this.I feel like I automallicaly log all guys I meet as taller/shorter and could take/couldn't take. My female friends find this absurd. It's hard to disagree with them, and yet...

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It might very well be. My research was specifically into males, but it is known that women's vocal qualities are correlated to their femininity and attractiveness too (see the Vukovic reference), but I do remember reading that the strength of the relationship between voice and attractivness is way stronger in men than in women (though I can't find the reference for that, so take it with a pinch of salt).

In that same article (Vukovic) it shows that feminine/attractive women also prefer more masculine/attractive men as a function of their femininity/attractivness. So the fact that men alter their voice might suggest that women do too, but my guess would be that they wouldn't do it to the same extent. So I reckon you're probably right - women probably change their voice pitch to help appear more attractive.


It'd be really interesting to see if there was an interaction effect there. More attractive guys lower their voices more for more attractive women, and the same relationship exists but to a lesser extent among less attractive men and less attractive women.


Guest Comment

An easy way to lower your voice (temporarily) is to yawn. Just try it!

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I dunno who these ladies are who don't like muscles.. but cool, more for me I guess!

Marky Mark is totally hot, but it's not just his bod, there are plenty of hot boys. Mark, like you said, has a good voice, and he's funny, he also seems like a competent capable person, which is very important. At least to me.

You happen to have a really good voice, as can be heard in your podcast. I don't know what, if any, assumptions about you can be made from that though.

Personally, a voice alone, or bod alone are not enough, it's gotta be the whole package, and the first and most important thing that's gotta be there is BRAINS, lots and lots of BRAINS..

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