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Vocal and Physiological Changes in Response to the Physical Attractiveness of Conversational Partners

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We examined how individuals may change their voices when speaking to attractive versus unattractive individuals, and if it were possible for others to perceive these vocal changes. In addition, we examined if any concurrent physiological effects occurred when speaking with individuals who varied in physical attractiveness. We found that both sexes used a lower-pitched voice and showed a higher level of physiological arousal when speaking to the more attractive, opposite-sex target. Furthermore, independent raters evaluated the voice samples directed toward the attractive target (versus the unattractive target) as sounding more pleasant when the two voice samples from the same person presented had a reasonably perceptually noticeable difference in pitch. These findings may have implications for the role voice plays in mate selection and attraction. KeywordsVocal changes-Attractiveness-Voice-Physiological responses-Romantic attraction
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ORIGINAL PAPER
Vocal and Physiological Changes in Response
to the Physical Attractiveness of Conversational
Partners
Susan M. Hughes
Sally D. Farley
Bradley C. Rhodes
Published online: 11 April 2010
Ó Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010
Abstract We examined how individuals may change their voices when speaking to
attractive versus unattractive individuals, and if it were possible for others to perceive these
vocal changes. In addition, we examined if any concurrent physiological effects occurred
when speaking with individuals who varied in physical attractiveness. We found that both
sexes used a lower-pitched voice and showed a higher level of physiological arousal when
speaking to the more attractive, opposite-sex target. Furthermore, independent raters
evaluated the voice samples directed toward the attractive target (versus the unattractive
target) as sounding more pleasant when the two voice samples from the same person
presented had a reasonably perceptually noticeable difference in pitch. These findings may
have implications for the role voice plays in mate selection and attraction.
Keywords Vocal changes Attractiveness Voice Physiological responses
Romantic attraction
Introduction
The sound of a person’s voice can communicate a wealth of biologically and socially
important information to potential mates. For instance, the voices of those with greater
bilateral body symmetry are rated as sounding more attractive than those possessing less
symmetrical features, and body symmetry has been shown to be a marker of developmental
fitness (Hughes et al. 2002). Vocal attractiveness is also significantly correlated with other
physical markers of fitness and hormonal status (e.g., waist-to-hip ratio in women and
shoulder-to-hip ratio in men), in addition to predicting numerous sexual behaviors (Hughes
et al. 2004). Hughes et al. (2004) found that for both sexes, those with more attractive
voices reported having sex at an earlier age, more sexual partners, and more sexual
S. M. Hughes (&) B. C. Rhodes
Department of Psychology, Albright College, Reading, PA 19612, USA
e-mail: shughes@alb.edu
S. D. Farley
University of Baltimore, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA
123
J Nonverbal Behav (2010) 34:155–167
DOI 10.1007/s10919-010-0087-9
infidelity than those with less attractive voices. Individuals also tend to associate positive
personality traits with those who have more attractive voices (Zuckerman and Driver
1989). For instance, individuals with attractive voices are thought to be warmer, more
likable, honest, dominant, and more likely to achieve (Berry 1990; Zuckerman and Driver
1989).
The fundamental frequency of the voice (i.e., the pitch) is one measure of voice
attractiveness that has been extensively examined, but there is no overwhelming consensus
in the literature as to what constitutes an ‘attractive voice.’ Daniel and McCabe (1992)
found that mid-pitched voices for both sexes were perceived as being the ‘most sexy,’
suggesting that voices with pitches that deviated too far from the average (within each
sex’s normal voice pitch range) could indicate hormonal abnormalities. Oguchi and
Kikuchi (1997) found that both males and females evaluated a lower-pitched voice with a
small pitch range for both sexes as attractive, but Oksenberg et al. (1986) found the
opposite, a high pitch with greater variation was associated with voice attractiveness for
both sexes.
Other studies suggest distinct sex differences with regards to pitch preferences for
opposite-sex voices. Women perceive high-pitched male voices to be unattractive (Riding
et al. 2006) and prefer deeper male voices (Collins 2000; Feinberg et al. 2005; Riding et al.
2006), especially during the most fertile phase of their menstrual cycles (Puts 2005). The
preference for lower-pitched male voices also appears to be replicated cross-culturally and
in Non-Western societies (Apicella et al. 2007; Karpf 2006). Men, on the other hand,
perceive higher-pitched female voices as sounding more attractive (Collins and Missing
2003; Feinberg et al. 2008; Jones et al. 2008). Female voices appear to change across the
menstrual cycle (Amir et al. 2006), and their voices are perceived as sounding more
attractive when they are in the most fertile part of their cycle (Pipitone and Gallup 2008).
These findings suggest that women may engage in non-conscious voice manipulation to
increase their attractiveness to others during the most critical time of their menstrual
cycles, despite not having knowledge of when that fertile time may be.
There is a body of evidence to suggest that individuals manipulate their voices when
speaking to different people and in different situations. For instance, women’s voices
sound more competent when speaking to their bosses rather than to their subordinates or
peers, whereas men’s voices sound more competent when speaking to their peers (Steckler
and Rosenthal 1985). Individuals also tend to raise the pitch of their voice when attempting
to deceive another person (Ekman et al. 1976; Streeter et al. 1977) and the more confident
individuals are when providing answers to questions, the faster and louder their voices are
when they respond (Kimble and Seidel 1991). There is also evidence that individuals speak
to males and females differently, whereby others rate vocal samples directed towards men
as sounding more dominant and formal than samples directed towards women (Hall and
Braunwald 1981). Furthermore, individuals are highly accurate at determining the affect of
a speaker based solely on vocal cues such as fundamental frequency, range, amplitude,
variability, and tempo (see Scherer 1986 for review).
Given the evidence that there are distinct pitch preferences for men and women, and the
studies documenting vocal changes as a function of motivational context, it seems rea-
sonable to expect that men and women would change their voices when confronted by
individuals they find attractive. However, research investigating vocal changes in romantic
contexts and mate attraction is limited. Montepare and Vega (1988) showed that women
were rated as sounding more approachable, sincere, submissive, and scatterbrained when
talking to intimate male partners than when talking to male friends during telephone
conversations. Furthermore, in an experimental setting, Anolli and Ciceri (2002) showed
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that men who had greater vocal modulation and a gradual deepening of their voices during
conversations with women they did not know, were more successful at getting future dates
(Anolli and Ciceri 2002). In addition, more self-perceived physically dominant males
lowered the pitch of their voices in response to a competitor in a dating game scenario,
whereas males who considered themselves to be less physically dominant raised their pitch
when confronted with a male competitor (Puts et al. 2006). But the question remains as to
whether individuals manipulate aspects of their voices (whether consciously or not) while
talking to individuals they find attractive in order to make the tonal qualities of their voice
sound better so as to increase their mate value. In Snyder et al.’s (1977) seminal study on
the self-fulfilling prophecy, men interacted with women who they believed were either
high or low in physical attractiveness. Independent raters evaluated men as more social and
friendly when they interacted with ‘physically attractive’ women than when they inter-
acted with less attractive individuals, based solely on vocal samples. Similarly, with
regards to vocal changes, since males with lower-pitched voices (Collins 2000; Feinberg
et al. 2005; Riding et al. 2006) and females with higher-pitched voices (Collins and
Missing 2003; Feinberg et al. 2008; Jones et al. 2008) are rated as sounding more
attractive, perhaps we may also expect males will lower and females will raise their voices
in order to sound more attractive to a person that they find attractive and want to
romantically impress.
Interpersonal attraction may not only motivate us to change our vocal characteristics,
but there is also indirect evidence that attraction prompts changes in physiological
responses. There is a tendency for people to associate arousal (e.g., increased heart rate)
with the encounter of an opposite-sex person they find attractive (Valins 1967). Yet, to
date, there is little research that provides concrete evidence of this commonly known
postulation that physiological responses directly result from the exposure to attractive,
viable mates of the opposite-sex. Heart rate has been shown to increase in response to
pleasant, arousing (erotic) pictures (Winton et al. 1984). Hess and Polt (1960) were among
the first to report greater pupil dilation (a measure of physiological arousal) in participants
viewing semi-nude photos of the opposite sex versus the same sex. There are also distinct
neurological patterns that occur when viewing familiar individuals as opposed to intimate
partners (Aron et al. 2005) and a strong neurological response to hearing members of the
opposite sex speaking in an erotic tone of voice (Ethofer et al. 2007). Sexual arousal can
also cause us to be more attentive to the physical attractiveness of opposite-sex individuals.
Participants exposed to erotic pictures of the opposite sex later rated non-sexual photo-
graphs of average and attractive opposite-sex targets as being even more attractive, and
unattractive individuals as being even less attractive than did the control group (Istvan
et al. 1982). Nonetheless, our study is among the first to examine whether actual physi-
ological changes occur due to exposure to an attractive individual versus unattractive
individual.
While previous investigations are lacking with regards to showing actual physiological
changes occurring as a function of the target’s attractiveness, several studies have inves-
tigated the effects of false feedback arousal on impressions of attractiveness. Valins (1967)
showed that the mere belief that one’s heartbeat is changing, regardless of actual physi-
ological changes, is sufficient to affect behavior and produce higher ratings of the
attractiveness of a person of the opposite-sex. A replication of Valins’ study concluded that
the increased attention towards physiological reactions had precipitated actual physio-
logical changes (Stern et al. 1972). Woll and McFall (1979) further confirmed that false
feedback can produce real physiological responses. When participants were given false
heart-rate feedback, their own heart rate also increased, but a corresponding change in
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galvanic skin response (GSR) did not occur. Therefore, GSR may be better index of actual
physiological response since it is less influenced by peripheral information such as false
feedback.
In the present study, we examined how individuals may change their voices when
speaking with an attractive versus unattractive individual, and if it is possible for others to
perceive these changes in their voices. In addition, we examined any concurrent physio-
logical effects that may occur when speaking with individuals who varied in physical
attractiveness. We hypothesized that males and females will alter their voices when
communicating with the more attractive persons, whereby males will lower the pitch of
their voices and females will increase the pitch of their voices in order to sound more
attractive to those targets. We also predicted that independent raters would be able to
perceive these vocal changes and rate the voices of those speaking with the attractive
targets as sounding more pleasant. Lastly, we expected that individuals would show a
greater physiological arousal as measured by galvanic skin response (GSR) when speaking
with attractive persons as an indication of their interpersonal attraction to that target.
Galvanic skin response (GSR) is a commonly used measure to assess physiological
responses to different stimuli, and research has generally associated a higher GSR with
pleasant emotion (Uchiyama et al. 1990). However, since GSR is extremely unspecific, any
emotion or even association, whether positive or negative, may lead to an enhanced GSR
(Bartels and Zeki 2000).
Method
Participants Providing Voice Samples
Forty-eight participants (males = 20, females = 28) were recruited from Albright College
for the first part of the study so that their voices could be recorded while making phone
calls to different persons. The mean age of the callers was 21.6, (SD = 5.4, range = 18–
40). Of the participants, 79.2% self-identified as Caucasian, 12.5% African American,
6.3% Asian, and 2.1% Hispanic. The majority of the callers indicated that they were most
sexually attracted to the opposite sex (97.9%). A total of three female callers were
excluded from all analyses due to either having strong accent since English was not their
native language or due to a poor voice-recording quality, yielding a total of 45 voice
samples (20 males, 25 females).
Procedure for Callers
After obtaining informed consent, callers completed a brief demographic questionnaire.
Then participants were asked to serve as ‘callers’ for a phone survey. They were
instructed that they were going to make phone calls to three individuals and ask them a set
of four standard questions regarding perceptions of the study of psychology (i.e., ‘Have
you ever taken any psychology courses in your lifetime?’’; ‘Do you know any people who
have a career in a psychology profession?’’). In the event that respondents failed to answer,
callers were instructed to leave a brief standard voice message. Since persons being called
were fictitious and part of the deception of the experiment, all calls went to a default
voicemail and callers always left messages. As a result, the psychology questions were
never asked. Before making each phone call, the caller was presented with a slideshow
shown on the screen of a computer monitor of the picture of the person they were calling,
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along with the set of 4 standard questions they were to ask, and a script of the message they
should leave if the person did not answer and the call went to voicemail: ‘Hello. I am
calling from Albright College Psychology Department to ask you questions for a phone
survey. Someone will try to call you back at another time. Thank you.’ The phone calls
were placed using Skype internet phone service and it was explained to the callers that the
targets were derived from a pool of volunteers who agreed to take part in this phone survey
and had already provided their pictures. Since there were no actual respondents, we
obtained the pictures used for this study from the internet. All of the calls went to the
default voicemail message of Skype.com so that a message would always be recorded for
each phone call made. The deception appeared to be successful because, before being
debriefed, many callers offered to call more individuals since the three persons they called
were unavailable and were surprised to hear that the people they were calling were not
actual people once they were debriefed. Each of the three phone calls was recorded on
Freecorder 2.0 software using a Gigaware USB desktop microphone while the callers were
leaving messages.
The pictures used for this study were frontal face photographs of three males and three
females that we standardized for size, shape, and color (black and white). These pictures
served as our conditions for each sex, one of an attractive person, one of unattractive
person and one of an average-attractive individual used as the first trial-run. Therefore,
each caller provided three voice samples of messages left for each opposite-sex target.
Each of the pictures was previously rated for attractiveness by independent raters. To
confirm that our attractiveness manipulation was successful, callers were asked to rate the
attractiveness of each person called on a 5-point Likert scale once the study was concluded
and their ratings had corroborated with the previous independent ratings for attractiveness.
Callers’ ratings for the attractiveness of each photograph was significantly different from
one another, F(2, 94) = 117.09, p = .00, g
2
= .81. Callers rated the attractive photo
(M = 4.36, SD = .74) as significantly higher than both the unattractive photo (M = 2.04,
SD = .71), t(44) = 13.32, p = .00, and the average photo (M = 2.89, SD = .75),
t(44) = 8.78, p = .00, and ratings for the average photo (M = 2.89, SD = .75) also sig-
nificantly exceeded ratings for the unattractive photo (M = 2.04, SD = .71), t(44) = 7.68,
p = .00.
While participants were making the phone calls, their galvanic skin response (GSR) was
also being monitored during each call and for 30 s baselines before each call using iWorx
recording devices interfaced with LabScribe II. Skin conductance was recorded using
Ag/AgCl electrodes attached to the volar surface of the third digit of the left hand and
absolute measures of skin conductance were recorded (a procedure followed by Taylor
et al. 2000). Callers were told that their hands and body should remain as still as possible
and that their physiological measures were going to be recorded in order to determine if
callers experience physiological change as a function of respondents’ answers. Due to
equipment malfunction, the first thirteen physiological recordings were not properly
obtained, thereby yielding physiological measures for a total of 32 callers (13 males and 19
females). Once all voice recordings were obtained, Praat 5.30 voice software was used to
conduct pitch analysis on each of the voice samples.
Callers were only shown pictures of opposite-sex individuals, with the neutrally-
attractive condition always appearing first, and the attractive and unattractive targets
counterbalanced in sequence thereafter. Callers were always presented with a neutral target
first as sort of a trial-run because we expected that having to conduct phone calls with
strangers would elicit an elevated anxiety and would impact our findings. Our hope was
that anxiety levels would decrease dramatically after callers initiated their first calls. Our
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analysis of GSR confirmed this was the case since the mean change in GSR from baseline
for the neutral condition (M = 1.39, SD = 1.31) substantially exceeded changes for both
the attractive (M = .38, SD = 1.30), t(30) = 3.38, p = .00, and the unattractive condi-
tions (M =-.13, SD = .60), t(30) = 5.60, p = .00. Therefore, we considered only the
comparison of the attractive and unattractive conditions for the response analyses.
Subjective Raters
An additional 39 participants (male = 12, female = 27) served as independent raters to
judge the voice recordings obtained from the callers and provide subjective ratings for
pitch level and voice pleasantness. The mean age of the raters was 23.3 (SD = 8.6, range
17–59). The majority of raters were Caucasian (74.4%), followed by African American
(15.4%), Hispanic (2.6%) and 7.7% indicated they were of another ethnicity.
Procedure for Subjective Raters
The voice recordings obtained from the callers were cropped to include only the initial
greeting of the caller saying ‘Hello’ and were presented to independent raters. Previous
studies have demonstrated that several subjective ratings such as voice attractiveness, age,
body morphology, etc. can be determined by hearing relatively short segments of speech
such as a word, vowel sound, or number count (Collins 2000; Hughes et al. 2004; Kramer
1963, 1964). Furthermore, we expected that the initial greeting of ‘Hello’’ would show the
most variability during the message and perhaps represent the most ‘natural’ part of the
message, providing the highest ecological validity. The ‘hello’ segment was also used for
the pitch analysis, which is usually conducted on fairly short segments. Using short seg-
ments for pitch analysis was an attempt to eliminate the difficulty of analyzing boundaries
between words, and follows the procedures of several similar investigations examining
pitch differences (Apicella et al. 2007; Collins and Missing 2003; Feinberg et al. 2005,
2008).
The neutral-condition recordings were excluded since they served as a control and were
always presented first to the callers so as to familiarize them with the procedure and to
improve the quality of the subsequent voice samples. Independent raters were presented
with paired samples of the voice recordings from each caller (one to attractive target, one
to unattractive target) so that the raters could make direct comparisons between the two
voice samples. Each paired set was presented three times for rating accuracy. Raters were
asked to choose which of the two voice samples sounder lower-pitched and also which
sounded more pleasant. The presentation of all voice samples and which condition was
played first (attractive versus unattractive) was counterbalanced for raters. Raters were
tested in small groups ranging from 1–6 persons in a private, quiet testing room setting.
Results
Objective Pitch Analysis
The fundamental frequency, as measured by the F
0
component of Praat, was significantly
lower, regardless of gender of speaker, when leaving a message for attractive targets
(M = 208.84 Hz, SD = 69.58) than unattractive targets (M = 215.44 Hz, SD = 72.38),
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t(44) =-2.98, p = .00. The same difference held true when examining median pitch of
the voice recordings; callers’ median pitch was lower in response to attractive targets
(M = 204.82 Hz, SD = 68.48) than to unattractive targets (M = 211.15 Hz, SD = 73.26),
t(44) =-2.28, p = 03.
In order to consider sex differences, a 2 (target condition) 9 2 (sex of voice) mixed-
model ANOVA was used to examine mean voice pitch. A main effect for condition
remained, F(1, 43) = 8.07, p = .01, g
2
= .16, with participants lowering their voice for
attractive targets (M = 208.84 Hz, SD = 69.58) than for unattractive targets
(M = 215.44 Hz, SD = 72.38). There was also a main effect for sex, F(1, 43) = 136.05,
p = .00, g
2
= .76, with males (M = 144.10 Hz., SD = 7.82) generally having overall
lower-pitched voices than females (M = 266.57 Hz., SD = 7.00). However, no significant
interaction was found between these two variables, F(1, 43) = 3.17, p = .08, suggesting
that both sexes equally lowered the pitch of their voices when talking to the attractive
target. As shown in Fig. 1, the mean pitch for male voices directed toward the attractive
target was lower (M = 142.95 Hz., SD = 37.70) than directed towards the unattractive
target (M = 145.25 Hz., SD = 36.30). Similarly, as seen in Fig. 2, the mean pitch for
female voices directed toward the attractive target was also lower (M = 261.55 Hz.,
SD = 35.19) than directed towards the unattractive target (M = 271.59 Hz., SD = 34.21).
Subjective Ratings
Raters were presented with two voice samples from each caller (a voice sample obtained
when speaking to the attractive target and to the unattractive target) and were asked to (1)
choose which voice sample sounded lower-pitched and (2) choose which voice sample
sounded more pleasant. The proportion of raters who correctly chose the lower-pitched
voice recording was tallied. We analyzed the proportion of raters who judged correctly
between the two voice samples against a 50% chance level, using single sample t-tests.
Raters were significantly better than chance at identifying which recording was the lower-
pitched voice sample for the majority of callers’ voice recordings (M = 59.44%,
SD = 19.11), t(44) = 3.31, p = .00. Similarly, we tallied the number of raters who had
chosen the voice sample directed towards the attractive versus unattractive targets as
sounding lower pitched. A greater proportion of raters were also more likely than chance to
Fig. 1 Differences in fundamental frequency (mean pitch) of voice samples obtained from male callers
speaking to an attractive and unattractive individual
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correctly select the voice recording directed toward the attractive target as sounding lower
pitched (M = 58.23%, SD = 19.67), t(44) = 2.81, p = .01. Furthermore, we totaled the
number of raters who chose the lower versus higher pitched voice recordings as sounding
more pleasant and found that raters were more likely than chance to choose the lower
pitched voice recording as sounding more pleasant (M = 54.56%, SD = 14.05),
t(44) = 2.18, p = .04.
We also tallied the proportion of raters who chose the voice sample directed toward the
attractive target as sounding more pleasant. Raters were not more likely than chance to
choose the voice recording directed toward the attractive target as sounding more pleasant
(M = 51.36%, SD = 14.72), t(44) = .62, p = .54, ns. However, this may be explained by
the lack of pitch discrepancy between some of the paired samples. In other words, making
the distinction of voice pleasantness may require a rather noticeable difference in pitch
between the two recordings before an assessment can be made [see Ladefoged (1996) for
JND frequency ranges of normal voices]. In support of this idea, the greater the discrep-
ancy in actual pitch between recordings directed toward the attractive and unattractive
targets, the more likely the rater chose the voice recording directed toward the attractive
target as sounding more pleasant, r = .37, p = .01. Furthermore, as the discrepancy in
actual pitch between the two recordings increased, the more pleasant the voice was rated if
it came from the lower pitched recording, r = .31, p = .04. There was no sex difference
found in any of these analyses.
Galvanic Skin Response
Physiological measures of skin conductance of the callers were taken for a baseline of 30 s
prior to making each of the three phone calls. Absolute values of skin conductance changes
were derived from subtracting the first two-seconds of the phone call from each baseline,
approximating when the caller said ‘Hello’ to the target in order to keep analyses con-
sistent with our previous analyses. Callers showed greater physiological change in skin
conductance from baseline when speaking to the attractive target (M = .82, SD = 1.07)
than to the unattractive target (M = .44, SD = .42), t(30) = 2.24, p = .03. No sex dif-
ferences were found in these analyses. We also examined if there was a relationship
between absolute changes of GSR from each baseline to the first couple of seconds when
each phone call was made. As GSR increased, pitch tended to decrease for both the
Fig. 2 Differences in fundamental frequency (mean pitch) of voice samples obtained from female callers
speaking to an attractive and unattractive individual
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attractive (r(28) =-.09, p = .66) and unattractive (r(28) =-.12, p = .51) conditions;
however these relationships were not significant.
Discussion
This study provides evidence that individuals alter their voices as a function of the
attractiveness of their conversational partner, such that both sexes tended to lower the pitch
of their voices when communicating with more attractive targets. Our findings are con-
sistent with Snyder et al. (1977) who also showed that individuals tend to behave differ-
ently when speaking to a person they believe is more attractive. Not only do individuals
become more likable and sociable when interacting with attractive targets, but our findings
demonstrated that the objective and subjective quality of their voices also change. Fur-
thermore, we showed that people were perceptually capable of correctly identifying a
lower-pitched voice between rather similar voice samples obtained from the same person.
Raters also judged the voice sample of the caller speaking to the attractive person as
sounding more pleasant when the voice samples had a reasonably noticeable difference in
pitch. These findings may have implications for the important role voice plays in mate
selection and attraction. If people can perceive changes in others’ voices when speaking to
attractive individuals (whether they may be consciously aware of this or not), this per-
ception may be adaptive for identifying interested potential mates, detecting partner
interest in others, and possible detection of partner infidelity. These results also support
research that has demonstrated the ability of listener/judges to accurately identify role-
played emotional expression from content-free speech and with minimal auditory infor-
mation (Kramer 1963, 1964; Davitz 1964).
The tendency to associate a lower-pitched voice as sounding more attractive for male
speakers has been well-documented (Feinberg et al. 2005; Puts 2005; Riding et al. 2006)
and there appears to be some evidence for a cross-cultural preference for deeper-pitched
male voices (Apicella et al. 2007; Karpf 2006). A low-pitch voice for male speakers has
been shown to relate to masculinity, higher reproductive fitness, (e.g., lower pitched males
sire more children) (Apicella et al. 2007) and increased ratings of men’s social and
physical dominance (Puts et al. 2006). The pitch of men’s voices is negatively correlated
with several morphological markers of masculinity including weight, shoulder circum-
ference, chest circumference, and shoulder-to-hip ratio (SHR) (Evans et al. 2006). Males
who speak in a lower pitch voice compared to their higher pitched counterparts have also
reported having more sexual partners within the last year (Puts et al. 2006). Furthermore,
women with higher mate value and who have higher self-reported attractiveness prefer
males with more masculine, lower pitched voices (Vukovic et al. 2008). Therefore, it may
be an advantageous manipulation on the part of males to lower their voices in order to
obtain females with greater mate value.
Contrary to our hypothesis, we found that females did not raise, but also lowered the
pitch of their voice when talking to the more attractive target. There is a body of literature
showing females with higher-pitched voices are judged to sound more attractive by males
(Collins and Missing 2003; Feinberg et al. 2008; Jones et al. 2008). Therefore, it seems
counterintuitive that the female participants in our study lowered their voices in attempt to
sound more attractive toward our attractive target stimuli. However, some research has
shown a male preference for lower-pitched female voices (Leaderbrand et al. 2008; Oguchi
and Kikuchi 1997) and there appears to be a common stereotype in our culture that deems a
sexy female voice as one that sounds husky, breathy, and lower-pitched (Karpf 2006).
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For instance, Tuomi and Fisher (1979) conducted a study where they asked participants to
simulate a ‘sexy voice’’, and both sexes greatly decreased the pitch of the voices in order
to sound more sexy, with females lowering the fundamental frequency of their voices even
more (by 25 Hz) than did the male participants (by 20 Hz). This suggests that the moti-
vation to display a sexy/seductive female voice may conflict with the motivation to sound
more feminine and/or reproductively fit.
Furthermore, the preference for a higher-pitched female voice is not necessarily a cross-
cultural predilection as there is some cultural variability for female pitch preference. For
example, Swedish (M = 196 Hz) and Dutch (M = 191 Hz) women tend to speak in much
lower tones than American women (M = 214 Hz), and medium and low-pitched female
voices are thought to sound more attractive than higher pitched voices in those cultures
(Van Bezooijen 1995). Moreover, average women’s voices have significantly deepened
over the past 50 years in America; recordings assessing the average pitch of women aged
18-25 made in 1945 (M = 229 Hz) were significantly higher than that of a cohort group
made in 1993 (M = 206 Hz) (Pemberton et al. 1998). It was suggested that some of this
deepening of voices by women may have been conscious and the result of such influences
as voice coaches, sound engineers, mass media/broadcasting announcers, and overall
cultural pressures (Karpf 2006). Rousey and Moriarty (1965) suggested that voice qualities
reflect a speaker’s intent to project a certain gender image and perhaps adoption of a
below-normal pitch level for females may indicate a more masculine role in life, and may
be a byproduct of women recently becoming more involved in traditionally male-oriented
occupational roles in our culture (Karpf 2006).
So if the stereotype that deepening one’s voice allows both sexes to sound more
attractive holds true, it may explain why the callers in our study lowered the pitch of their
voices when leaving a message for the attractive opposite-sex targets so as to sound more
attractive. Indeed, our raters judged the lower-pitched voice sample for both male and
female callers as sounding more pleasant. For males, it has been shown that a deepening of
the voice is successful for obtaining mates (Anolli and Ciceri 2002). For females, the
discrepancy between their attempt to sound attractive by deepening their voice and the
overall preference for higher-pitched female voices suggests that voice manipulation may
be a learned behavior based on sexual voice stereotypes rather than actual vocal charac-
teristics of attractiveness. One should also consider that there could be a distinction
between making comparisons between individuals (whereby higher-pitched female voices
are preferred), and making subtle comparisons between different voice samples obtained
from the same person who have naturally changed their voice in reaction to a person/
situation (where the lower-toned voice is preferred). Perhaps when a woman naturally
lowers her voice, it may be perceived as her attempt to sound more seductive or attractive,
and therefore serves as a signal of her romantic interest.
In support of this idea, studies have shown that factors indicating female interest can
trump male preference for higher female pitch. For instance, Jones et al. (2008) showed
that higher pitched voice samples were preferred by men when a woman was saying ‘I
really like you’ but not as much when saying ‘I really don’t like you,’’ demonstrating the
important role that content/semantics of speech play with regard to males’ pitch prefer-
ences. Alternatively, an equivalent study conducted on male voices showed that females
had a preference for a lower pitched male voice regardless of the phrase indicating interest
(i.e., ‘I really like you’’) or not (Vukovic et al. 2008).
Because our study only examined responses to only opposite-sex pairs, and there is no
comparative same-sex group, we cannot be fully certain if men and women speak dif-
ferently to opposite-sex targets or if people simply speak differently to men versus women.
164 J Nonverbal Behav (2010) 34:155–167
123
Even though the interaction between sex and target condition (attractive versus unattrac-
tive) was not significant, it seemed that females lowered the pitch of their voices when
talking to the opposite-sex attractive target a bit more than did males. It is important to
acknowledge that people speak differently to males versus females. For instance, Hall and
Braunwald (1981) showed that both male and female speakers speak more dominantly,
condescendingly, and unpleasantly to males rather than to females, despite perceivers
thinking that females would speak more dominantly to other female targets.
Our findings are among the first to empirically demonstrate that a higher degree of
physiological response occurs when one is confronted with a more attractive individual.
Previous research suggests that people associate physical attractiveness in the opposite sex
with their own increased physiological arousal (Stern et al. 1972; Valins 1967; Woll and
McFall 1979). Similarly Bartels and Zeki (2000) showed that galvanic skin responses
towards pictures of a loved partner was significantly higher than to pictures of friends and
concluded that this reveals a differential emotional response to the partner compared to the
friends. Nonetheless, to our knowledge, there is little empirical evidence which shows that
physiological arousal directly results from being confronted with an attractive individual
prior to this study. This finding is important as it relates to mate selection. It is adaptive to
find mates with superior genes to pass onto one’s offspring and the physiological response
toward attractive individuals is one proximate mechanism that allows us to select those
viable mates.
GSR is extremely unspecific and any emotion or even association, whether positive or
negative, may lead to an enhanced GSR (Bartels and Zeki 2000). Therefore, another
interpretation as to why participants showed a greater physiological response when
speaking to the attractive target was because they might have felt anxious when talking to a
very attractive person, especially since the target photos shown were of those rated as
being extremely attractive by both independent raters and later by the participants.
Alternatively, because high attractiveness is a marker for social status (Zuckerman and
Driver 1989), perhaps GSR was reflecting their emotional response to an ‘important’
versus ‘unimportant’ target. Therefore, we cannot conclude whether attraction to the
target was the mediator of this effect or if attractiveness may have stimulated thoughts and
feelings that produced GSR changes. Nonetheless, it is interesting to speculate that changes
in GSR may be seen as the physiological counterpart to the vocal changes in pitch seen as
the overall response to the attractive targets. However, when directly comparing GSR to
pitch changes, there was no significant correlation, suggesting that one does not exactly
map onto changes in the other.
Future research should focus on increasing the external validity of these findings by
examining whether these vocal differences occur between individuals who are commu-
nicating in person and by studying natural conversational interactions. Furthermore, the
attractiveness of the conversational partner’s voice could also have an effect on how a
person changes his or her voice in response to an individual. Additionally, we only
examined initial greetings and it is possible that other cues may arise and be detected by
others during other parts of a more lengthy conversation. Perhaps manipulating the
motivational component or intent of a conversation between individuals (i.e., dating
partners, competence) would also help explain how individuals change their voices in
response to their immediate environment.
Acknowledgments We wish to thank David Osgood and The Summer Albright College Research
Experience Program (ACRE) for their support of this research, Rodney Warfield for his assistance in
obtaining participants for this study, and Andrea Chapdelaine for helpful comments with analysis.
J Nonverbal Behav (2010) 34:155–167 165
123
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... Beyond responses to explicit instruction, the heightened physiological arousal that accompanies interaction with an attractive target [80] is likely to influence both verbal and nonverbal vocal expression. When recalling a first interaction with an attractive person or potential romantic partner, both sexes reported faster speech and reduced ability for clear verbal expression, and women particularly reported higher pitch and unsteady tone of voice [81]. ...
... However, women lowered their f o when interacting with men who were chosen by both them and most other women in the dating event [82]. In experiments in which stimuli were selected based on prior attractiveness ratings, women also lowered their f o when speaking to a more attractive male target depicted in a facial image [80], but not in a soundless video [83]. Likewise, women tended to lower f o − s.d. ...
... have been associated with perceptions of female speakers' affection towards their conversational partner [84] and with empathy [85], one can speculate that women sometimes raise these parameters when they find a potential mate interesting and attainable but lower these parameters to avoid 'showing their hand' to attractive males by signalling excessive interest. Data are equivocal regarding whether higher f o female voices are generally preferred [24,56,86,87], but lowering f o could also signal seduction and proceptivity [80]. Women's voice modulation in contexts of mate attraction appears to be effective. ...
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... Voices convey a great deal of information about speakers. The pitch of the voice, as measured by the fundamental frequency (F 0 ), is a measure of vocal attractiveness that has been covered extensively (Hughes et al., 2010). For example, vocal attractiveness has been found to be associated with a wide array of characteristics (e.g., body size, health, fertility; Zuckerman & Driver, 1989). ...
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Human love signals are nonverbal signs of sexual attraction, courtship, seduction, and love. Myriad signs, signals, and cues of attraction are in service to what the authors call the “reproductive force,” the fifth fundamental force of nature after the strong, weak, electromagnetic, and gravitational forces of physics. The reproductive force appeared some 3.7 billion years ago with RNA and later, DNA, in the origin of life on Earth. RNA and DNA molecules encode information (via codons) about how to reproduce themselves. Selfishly enforced, guided, and shaped by primordial messaging molecules, self-replication became the prime directive—the summum bonum or “greatest good”—of life and living, pursued for its own sake and solely on its own behalf. The reproductive force remains a potent motivator in humans today, in their overall demeanor, facial expressions, gestures, goals, clothing, automobiles, music, media, art, religion, hairdos, shoes, prom dresses, and diverse additional nonverbal signs and cues. This chapter explores the relationship between love signals and the overarching reproductive force.
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Low fluctuating asymmetry (FA, a measure of deviation from bilateral symmetry) appears to be a phenotypic marker of reproductive viability and health. In the present study, we investigated whether ratings of voice attractiveness were correlated with variations in FA. Several bilateral traits were measured to calculate a FA index and independent raters who did not know and never saw the subjects assessed the attractiveness of recordings of each subject's voice. Voices of subjects with greater bilateral symmetry were rated as more attractive by members of both sexes than those with asymmetrical traits.
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