We often think of a deep baritone voice as a sexy one, but it seems too cliché to think that a romantically-inclined crooner like Barry White would actually look the part. Yet, although most people’s voices don’t seem to strike a chord one way or the other, research has shown that a person’s voice can influence whether others find him alluring or unattractive. But once you connect the face with the voice, does the sound actually correspond to a knockout—or a letdown?
Just as symmetry and scent are important yet subtle indicators of genetic fitness, a person’s voice can also give clues to his reproductive ability. For instance, it’s no myth that good looking men often have deep voices. A study done at Northumbria University in the UK recorded men speaking and had both men and women rate their voices based on attractiveness, dominance, confidence, and sexiness. The listeners then looked at photos of the men and rated them. Researchers found that men with deep voices were rated higher than those with high voices and the deep voices also corresponded to more attractive faces.
Voices can give clues to physical characteristics and listeners might be better at relating the two traits than they think they are. A 2002 study showed that people are able to match a speaker’s voice with a photograph over 75 percent of the time and that those people with symmetrical traits (a sign of genetic fitness) were rated as having more attractive voices.
Voices can tip us off not just to how people look, but perhaps to their level of sexual activity as well. A 2004 study looked at the relationship between voice attractiveness and body dimensions. In men, an attractive voice was correlated with a higher shoulder-to-hip ratio (broad shoulders, narrow waist); in women, voice attractiveness was correlated with waist-to-hip ratio (waist narrower than hips). The authors speculate that because testosterone influences both voice and physical development, a man’s deep baritone can indicate more muscle mass and strength, and hence, greater genetic fitness. Likewise, estrogen and progesterone influence a woman’s voice as well as her body dimensions, which can indicate her reproductive status.
Since voice is correlated with symmetrical proportions, which play a large role in attractiveness, it’s no surprise that a person’s voice also corresponds to her sexual activity. The study also found that men and women with more attractive-sounding voices reported having more sexual partners, had their first sexual intercourse at a younger age, and were more promiscuous.
However, our voices may not stay static throughout our lifespan, or even throughout the month. For instance, a 2008 study published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior recorded women’s voices at four different times during their menstrual period. Results of voice ratings found that a woman’s voice was most attractive during ovulation, when conception risk is highest and least attractive sounding during menstruation, when risk of conception is lowest. The authors speculate that hormones affecting the larynx could be the source of these changes.
Though a changing voice due to hormones is something generally beyond our control, other factors can alter how our voices are perceived. People tend to find confident voices more attractive and level of confidence can change over time. Similarly, bright, generous voices can increase interpersonal attraction and receptivity toward another person.
Research has also shown that listeners can detect people’s socioeconomic status, personality, and emotional/mental state from their voice, and that they can estimate age, height, and weight about as accurately from voice clips as they can from photographs.
While I don’t consciously register voices that fall within a normal-sounding range, it seems as if a person’s voice may be making more of an influence than I think. It’s speculated that voices correspond to attractiveness because our forefathers had to find a mate without the help of artificial lighting, trying to garner critical information while wandering around the pitch dark forests. Though I can’t say that I’m happy for fluorescent lighting, I am happy we have other aspects of mate selection to work with than just how someone sounds. (Although I like Barry White’s voice, he’s definitely not my type.) And although we can’t completely change our voices, knowing that they make an impact is a good lesson for dating; whether or not you fit the part, speak with confidence and cheer when talking to a new potential partner on the phone.