60-Second Science

Voices Considered Attractive Send Body Cues

Volunteer listeners expressed preferences for voice qualities that ordinarily correlate with specific body dimensions. Sophie Bushwick reports

What makes someone sound sexy? To get a scientific viewpoint, researchers gauged volunteers' responses to different voices. The conclusion: voices considered attractive send messages about body size. The work is in the journal PLoS ONE. [Yi Xu et al., Human Vocal Attractiveness as Signaled by Body Size Projection]

In the animal kingdom, sound indicates size and intentions. For example, a rough and low-frequency call suggests the vocalizer is large and aggressive, while a clearer, higher frequency signals a small, nonthreatening animal.

In the study, researchers adjusted a variety of voices to correspond with different body sizes. To do so, they synthesized completely artificial voices, and recorded sentences before varying the pitches and resonance.

When volunteers listened to the sound samples, men preferred higher-pitched female voices like this one [voice clip], which suggest a smaller body size. Low-frequency male voices that signaled a large body size [voice clip], were attractive to females.

Interestingly, breathiness made both male and female voices more desirable. It certainly explains the enduring popularity of [audio of Marilyn Monroe singing to JFK].

—Sophie Bushwick

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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