Voice Correlates of Mating Success in Men: Examining‘‘Contests’’
Versus‘‘Mate Choice’’Modes of Sexual Selection
Carolyn R. Hodges-Simeon•Steven J. C. Gaulin•David A. Puts
Received: 10 June 2009/Revised: 24 February 2010/Accepted: 11 March 2010
? Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010
measuring traits involved in male contests and female choice.
Previous research has demonstrated relationships between one
present study investigated the role of another vocal parameter,
F0variation (the within-subject SD in F0across the utterance,
F0-SD), in predicting men’s reported number of female sexual
with another man for a date with a woman. Recorded interac-
linguistic vocal parameters: F0-SD, mean F0, intensity, dura-
tion, and formant dispersion (Df, an acoustic correlate of vocal
tract length), as well as dominant and attractive linguistic con-
dominant linguistic content were strong predictors of the num-
significantly predict past-year partners. These contrasts have
implications for the relative importance of male contests and
female choice in shaping men’s mating success and hence the
Fundamental frequency ? Mate choice ? Mating success ?
Dominance ? Formant dispersion ?
Building on arguments by Trivers (1972), Perusse (1993) pio-
has yielded many insights into the force of sexual selection in
humans. In general, traits that are associated with elevated
ually dimorphic phenotypic traits have been associated with
(Frederick & Haselton, 2007; Lassek & Gaulin, 2009), body
shape (Hughes & Gallup, 2003; Rhodes, Simmons, & Peters,
Lipowicz, 2000; Rhodes et al., 2005), facial morphology
(Johnston, Hagel, Franklin, Fink, & Grammer, 2001; Keating,
1985;however,see Cunningham,Barbee,& Pike, 1990;Jones
& Hill, 1993; Penton-Voak et al., 1999; Perrett et al., 1998;
2004; Puts, 2005).
in the first place. However, a review of the literature demon-
Sexual selection comprises multiple subprocesses (Andersson,
own sex from mating by force or threat of force. These two
forms of sexual selection, mate choice and contests, respec-
tively, produce different outcomes: adornments in the former
C. R. Hodges-Simeon ? S. J. C. Gaulin
Department of Anthropology, University of California,
Santa Barbara, CA, USA
D. A. Puts (&)
Department of Anthropology, Pennsylvania State University,
University Park, PA 16802, USA
Arch Sex Behav
case and weapons in the latter. Yet, among humans, it can be
that seem clearly designed for combat (e.g., muscle mass and
Cousins, Garver-Apgar, & Christensen, 2004).
For several reasons, we believe that the voice is well-suited
forexaminingtherelative importance ofthesetwotypes ofsex-
fundamental frequency, F0) (Titze, 1994) and lower formant
dispersion (Df,‘‘resonance,’’an acoustic correlate of vocal tract
with variance in voice characteristics: In North America, men
with low-pitched voices had more total sex partners (Puts,
2005) and, among Hadza hunter-gatherers, low voice pitch
2007). Third, voice characteristics are implicated in both mate
attractive also reported earlier first coitus, more total sex part-
studies found that women prefer lower pitched male voices,
heavier, and more dominant (Collins, 2000; Feinberg, Jones,
Little, Burt, & Perrett, 2005; Puts, Gaulin, & Verdolini, 2006;
Puts, Hodges, Cardenas, & Gaulin, 2007).
The Present Study
dimensions of the vocal folds that are under the influence of
1997). Due to the relationship between testosterone levels and
mean F0could provide evidence of heritable disease resistance
as more physicallydominant bymen(Puts et al.,2006, 2007).
or less variable within an utterance, and thus the amount of
within-utterance variation in F0is itself a variable of potential
semantic variance in F0, the amount of F0variation differs
women do (Brend, 1975; Daly & Warren, 2001). Arousal and
nervousness may affect muscles of the larynx via the vagus
nerve and the autonomic nervous system (Charous, Kempster,
Manders, & Ristanovic, 2001). Therefore, arousal may affect
features of the voice, including within-utterance F0variation
ing whether the speaker feels confident or threatened. If this is
true, F0variation may provide information about socially var-
and Puts (2010) showed that men attended strongly to F0vari-
dominance. This raises the question of whether mean F0or F0
variation better explains male mating success.
This question is of more than mere empirical interest; it
addresses the fundamental character of sexual selection in
Buss & Shackelford, 1997; Daly & Wilson, 1988; Lassek &
selection has tacitly assumed that mate-choice processes have
variety of hard facts about human biology—for example, the
large sex differences in muscle mass mentionedabove,as well
as parallel sex differences in aggressiveness (Archer, 2004)—
suggest that male–male competition was probably at least as
in this choice-versus-competition debate. First, to the extent that
expect that mating outcomes will reflect this selective attention.
When judging men’s attractiveness, women attended strongly
low F0variation (which men perceived as dominant) better
predicts mating success, it may be that male–male interactions
characteristics during courtship, an effect of male–male com-
petition is supported. Finally, if the linguistic content rated as
‘‘dominant’’ by males more strongly predicts mating success
than linguistic content rated as‘‘attractive’’by females, then a
significant role for male–male competition may be indicated.
undergraduate populations (M=19.4years; age range: 18–37).
Arch Sex Behav
Two groups of subjects participated: mock dating game partici-
of self-labeling),native speakers of AmericanEnglish.
Procedure and Measures
Participants took part in a simulated dating game (Puts, 2005;
Puts et al., 2006; Simpson, Gangestad, Christensen, & Leck,
he would be competing with another man to win a lunch date
with a woman, who were in separate other rooms and were in
contact via audio. In reality, both the competitor and potential
to describe themselves to the woman (‘‘courtship recording’’).
why they are respected or admired by other men (‘‘competitive
recollections were expected to be accurate and voice character-
Participants also completed the Sociosexual Orientation Inven-
tory (SOI; Simpson & Gangestad, 1991), which consists of 7
relations, and attitudes toward uncommitted sex (attitudes were
assessed on a 9-point Likert-type scale ranging from‘‘strongly
analysis software (version4.4.11) for fiveacoustic parameters:
time in seconds), intensity (decibels, dB), and formant disper-
sion (Df). All settings were in accordance with the program-
mers’ recommendations for adult male voices (Boersma &
Weenik, 2009). Formants were measured using the long-term
average spectrum (LTAS; Gonzalez, 2004; Xue & Hao, 2003),
and Dfwas computed by taking an average of the distance
betweeneachof the firstfour formants (Fitch,1997).
ers, recordings were transcribed and rated separately for both
Following procedures described by Mazur et al. (1994), raters
were told that‘‘a [socially] dominant person tells other people
what to do, is respected, influential, and often a leader; whereas
directed by others.’’Raters were asked to read each passage and
assess the target’s social dominance on a 7-point Likert scale
(1=‘‘extremely submissive’’and 7=‘‘extremely dominant’’; M=
agree’’and 7=‘‘strongly agree’’; M=4.12) with the following
statement:‘‘If this man got in a fistfight with an average male
bivariate analyses revealed that physical dominance ratings of
content were more strongly correlated with copulatory success
than were social dominance ratings, the former variable was
regression model (Table1).
ing and rated each for short-term or long-term attractiveness.
7 (‘‘extremely attractive’’) for a‘‘short-term, purely sexual rela-
‘‘long-term, committed relationship’’(M=3.60). Because, in a
bivariate context, short-term attractiveness ratings were more
inclusioninmultiple regressionanalyses (Table1).
Due to the positive skew in the reported number of sexual part-
ners, a log transformation was performed in order to produce a
variance inflationfactors tobelessthan1.3inallmodels; there-
fore, our results were unlikely to be confounded by multicollin-
Mean F0was 112.7Hz (SD=15.1) for the courtship and
113.2Hz (SD=14.5) for the competitive recordings. F0varia-
Arch Sex Behav
order) correlations between copulatory success and each of the
competitive recordings and females rating courtship recordings)
and two control variables (age and SOI), were simultaneously
entered into two separate multiple regressions (one for compe-
titive recordings, one for courtship recordings) predicting the
the past year. For the courtship recordings, a similarly structured
Low F0-SD in the competitive recording significantly pre-
dicted the number of past-year sexual partners, b=-0.34,
predictor of past-year partners (b=-0.12, ns), although in the
bivariate analysis courtship F0-SD was significantly related
to past-year sex partners. Neither mean F0(competitive: b=
-0.03, ns; courtship: b=-0.12, ns) nor Df(competitive: b=
-0.05, ns; courtship: b=-0.04, ns) captured significant vari-
ance in the number of partners. Physically dominant linguistic
content in the competitive recording (male raters) was a sig-
nificant predictor of partner number, b=0.19, p\.05; how-
did not predict copulatory success, b=-0.10. See Table1 for
Age (competitive: b=0.27, p\.01; courtship: b=0.26,
p\.01) and SOI (competitive: b=-0.35, p\.001; courtship:
b=-0.39, p\.001) were also significant predictors of sexual
partners in the past year.
ingsuccess,butF0variationappears tobe a particularlystrong
erosexual sex partners in the past year. Previous studies have
study showed that mean F0did not explain additional variance
in mating success beyond that explained by F0variation (and
Pitch Variation (competitive recording) (Hz)
Copulatory success residuals
Fig.1 Residual copulatory success (the number of sexual partners in
the last year) regressed on pitch variation (competitive recording)
Table1 Multiple regression predicting number of past-year sexual
Predicting number of past-year partners
Predicting number of past-year partners
0.14 .05.26** .20*
correlation with number of past-year sex partners. F0-SD=F0varia-
aContent ratings were based on males’ ratings of physical dominance
bContent ratings were based on females’ ratings of short-term attrac-
?p\.10, *p\.05, **p\.01, ***p\.001
Arch Sex Behav
There are several possible explanations for the relationship
between low F0variation and mating success in this study and
variation did not consistently predict attractiveness judgments
toexpectations if F0variationwas part of a matingdisplay.
Second, low F0variation may deter competitors and aid in
attaining dominance. In most social species, access to contested
resources or mates is mediated by relative dominance (Alcock,
2005). The majority of contests to establish hierarchies involve
elaborate multi-modal signaling displays wherein each individual
attempts to convey his physical prowess to competitors. An indi-
will concede the resource. We have argued elsewhere (Hodges-
Simeonetal., 2010) that highF0variationmaysignal low relative
ception of low dominance, and intent to concede because of its
association with arousaland nervousness(Banse &Scherer,1996;
Charous etal., 2001;Goedeking,1988).Inotherwords,ifF0vari-
possible that signaling nervousness may be advantageous to the
when placed in a mating context. This assurance may have
relaxed male subjects, stabilizing their F0. If so, then this sug-
gests that when men feel confident, they speak with lower F0
research has shown that women find low mean F0attractive
(Collins, 2000; Feinberg et al., 2005; Puts et al., 2007), F0
variation may be more instructive about variable emotional,
physiological, or intentional states.
ecologically valid competitive interaction, successful men used
both dominant language and a dominant tone of voice. To our
knowledge,this is the first studytoshow sucha result.
successwasbetterpredictedbya strongcorrelate of vocal dom-
(F0). Second, vocal behavior during the competitive encounter
ior during the courtship encounter. Finally, dominant content
predicted mating success, but attractive content did not. This
pattern of results lends support for the idea that contest compe-
tition was an important selection pressure on the evolution of
the origin and maintenance of human sex differences than has
self-reported copulatory success, which is subject to imperfect
memory or intentional distortion. However, unless such inac-
curacies were systematically correlated with the independent
sample a greater range in partner number.
manipulate the vocal parameters of interest. Mating success
vocal traits, resulting in spurious relationships between voice
characteristics and mating success. In other words, men with
low F0variation may have been more successful with women
partly determined by testosterone, which has wide ranging
founds through multiple regression, as was done in this study.
First, this was the first study to show that F0variation was asso-
ciated with mating success: low F0variation was a highly sig-
nificant predictor of men’s number of female sexual partners,
potentially confounding variables. Second, examining both lin-
the way that they say them influence sexual success. Third, the
present study used naturalistic speech samples in a mating situ-
ation—one that included both mate choice and contest compe-
vocal traits during male–male competition also reported greater
mating success. The same was not true of men who displayed
not constitute conclusive evidence in the choice versus compe-
tition debate, they nonetheless lend support for the notion that
contest competition was an important selection pressure on the
than has generally been acknowledged. Future research should
continue to explore the relative effects of mate choice and con-
tests on sexually dimorphic humantraits.
Arch Sex Behav
Jerzyk, Jerome Lee, Rebecca Prosser, John Putz, Melinda Putz, and
data collection; Julio Gonzalez and Drew Rendall for their advice on
support; and the Editor and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful
suggestions regarding this article.
We would like to thank Lisa Brevard, Christina
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