The Hidden Brain

Our unconscious biases.

Hidden Brain Puzzle: Both Men and Women Change the Pitch of Their Voices to Convey Romantic Interest

Do Women Raise or Lower Their Voices to Convey Interest?

Both men and women change the pitch of their voices when they are trying to convey romantic interest, but the nature of those voice changes might surprise you. Psychologist Susan Hughes at Albright College recently asked a group of college students to leave voice mail messages via Skype to a fictitious person. The psychologist found that men lowered the pitch of their voices when addressing someone they found attractive. No surprise there. Hughes expected women trying to convey romantic interest to use higher pitched and more “feminine” voices, but she discovered the opposite was true. Women also lowered the pitch of their voices to communicate interest.

Here’s the puzzle I posted recently on The Hidden Brain’s Facebook page — all puzzles get posted here first.

When people speak to a person they find attractive — and when they want to arouse mutual interest — a study in the United States recently found that
A) Both men and women raise the pitch of their voices
B) Men raise the pitch of their voices and women lower the pitch of their voices
C) Men lower the pitch of their voices and women raise the pitch of their voices
D) Both men and women lower the pitch of their voices

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The correct answer is D.

It is unclear whether this behavior is limited to the United States and to our present context. It’s possible that at other times and in other places, women raised the pitch of their voices to communicate interest.

“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,” Albright said in a news release about the study, which is to be published later this year in the Journal of Nonverbal Behavior. “This suggests that the motivation to display a sexy/seductive female voice may conflict with the motivation to sound more feminine … 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.”

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Shankar Vedantam is a science reporter with National Public Radio and a Nieman fellow at Harvard University.

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