In the language of love it’s not what you say; it’s how you say it

vocal changes and attractiveness

Humans make subtle changes in their voices when they speak to people they find attractive.

This is the key finding of a new study led by the University of Stirling which looked at the vocal ranges of men and women in courtship scenarios. 

The research – which was led by Stirling’s Juan David Leongómez and published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior – also found that these subtle voice modulations also make the speaker seem more attractive to the person at whom the speaking is directed.

The research team studied a sample of 110 heterosexual individuals, who were either native English or Czech speakers.  They compared the vocal patterns of men and women – when the speakers were talking to people they perceived as attractive, versus people they perceived as unattractive. 

When men of both languages were talking to women they found attractive, the researchers found the men tended to speak in a more variable voice (more “sing-songy”). The men also reached a lower minimum voice pitch, or ‘deep voice’, compared with when they spoke to women they considered less attractive.

Lead researcher, Juan David Leongómez said: “Previous research has shown that humans signal their romantic interest in several different ways, including non-verbal behaviours and body language, like eye contact and casual touching - for example playfully touching someone’s hair.

“Our study shows that people also modulate their voices to signal romantic interest and that this, in turn, seems to make the speaker seem more attractive”.

“For men, it is important to sound masculine, which is manifested in a deeper voice pitch. However, extreme masculinity is associated with negative traits in a partner, like a tendency for increased aggressiveness and promiscuity.

“This puts men in a dilemma, because they have to convey two seemingly contradictory messages at the same time: ‘I am a masculine man’, and ‘I’d be a good partner and father’.

“The solution may be to vary their pitch - which would explain the sing-songy quality of the voices we observed in men speaking to attractive women”.

The researchers’ findings also showed that bystanders respond to these subtle differences too.  When the voice recording of a man speaking to an attractive woman was played to female listeners, the listeners found the voice more attractive than a recording of the same man speaking to a less attractive woman.

The men whose voices were recorded were Czech and the bystanding female listeners were British – so the experiment was designed to ensure the women did not understand the words being spoken.  This indicates the male speakers’ attractiveness was due to their subtle voice changes, rather than what they were saying.

Juan David Leongómez concluded: “If a woman perceives a man’s voice to be more sing-songy, then it is likely the man finds her attractive. However, these vocal modulations are very subtle and probably not produced consciously by the speaker. Additionally, whilst they help make a person sound more attractive to the opposite sex, people do not seem to be aware of why they find the voice more attractive”.

Background information

The research team comprised:

  • Juan David Leongómez and S. Craig Roberts - School of Natural Sciences, University of Stirling and School of Biological Sciences, University of Liverpool
  • Jakub Binter, Lydie Kubicová, Petra Stolařová, and Kateřina Klapilová- Department of Anthropology, Charles University, Prague
  • Jan Havlíček - Department of Zoology, Charles University, Prague
Share this
© University of Stirling FK9 4LA Scotland UK • Telephone +44 1786 473171 • Scottish Charity No SC011159
Portal Logon