No matter the complexities of the estimated 7,000 human languages on Earth, animal instincts still play a big part in how we communicate, according to new research from University College London.
Men prefer high-pitched voices that indicate a small body size, while women prefer low-pitched voices because they indicate a larger body size, though women don’t care for voices that indicate aggression, according to a study published today in the journal PLOS One.
Animal Instincts and the Human Voice
In the wild, animals determine the type and behavior of other animals by the frequency, quality, and formant distance, or resonance, of the sounds they make.
For example, a low, deep growl typically indicates a large animal and signals dominance or an imminent attack. On the other hand, pure tones—such as those made by buzzing insects—indicate smaller body sizes, submissiveness, and fear, researchers said.
Fun fact: Koalas in Australia can bellow loudly enough that other animals think they’re as large as a bison, according to a study in the Journal of Experimental Biology.
But the University College London researchers wanted to know how qualities of the human voice affect the way we estimate a person’s size and attractiveness.
The researchers used prerecorded statements from males and females and asked participants to judge the attractiveness of the speaker and the emotions being displayed. Researchers changed the median pitch, formant dispersion, and pitch slope of the voices to reflect different body sizes.
Their study revealed that males find female voices that indicate a smaller body size—high-pitched, breathy voices with wide formant spacing—most attractive.
Females, on the other hand, prefer to hear a low-pitched voice with narrow formant spacing, reflecting a larger body size. This explains one thing women are looking for in a quality mate and probably a third of Barry White’s album sales.
However, low voices with short formant spacing are typically interpreted as aggressive, which may explain why women also prefer breathiness in the voices of their potential suitors.
“Despite the development of complex language, human vocal interactions still employ certain animal instincts,” the authors concluded.
A Deep Voice Doesn’t Always Mean a Fertile Man
While women may prefer a deep, George Clooney-esque voice, men with this trait don’t always possess the virility you’d expect.
Previous research published in PLOS One examined vocal tone as it relates to sexual attractiveness in men.
Women in that study also found men with deeper voices to be more attractive, but when the results were compared with the men’s semen quality, they found that sperm concentrations were lower in men with lower voices.
Then again, Barry White had five kids, so it may just take those bass-voiced men more attempts to reproduce. Like he sang, “…can’t get enough of your love, babe.”