Gad Saad Ph.D.

Homo Consumericus

Judging a Man’s Physical Strength Via His Voice: The Darth Vader Effect

Judging a Man’s Physical Strength Via His Voice: The Darth Vader Effect

Posted Sep 16, 2011

In an earlier post, I discussed research that had uncovered a correlation between a man's voice and his reproductive fitness. Specifically, men who possessed deeper voices had sired a greater number of children. I coined this the Barry White Effect, a topic to which I returned in my trade book The Consuming Instinct: What Juicy Burgers, Ferraris, Pornography, and Gift Giving Reveal About Human Nature. I argued that advertisers are well aware of this general effect as evidenced by the fact that they typically use male endorsers with deep voices when peddling products associated with authority, expertise, and trust. Are there other signals that might be inferred from an individual's voice?

In a 2010 paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, Aaron Sell and his colleagues set out to explore whether an individual's physical strength (formidability) could be gauged by listening to his/her voice. The animal kingdom is replete with examples of auditory signals that serve either as cues of intersexual wooing and/or intrasexual rivalry (intimidate fellow males). For example, the male bullfrog croaks to attract prospective females and to intimidate rival males. Male lions roar to warn rival males away from their territories. Male birds of countless species engage in elaborate singing as a form of sexual signaling. In the human context, we've all heard of the sexual rewards that accrue to famous male singers but might men use their voices to ward off other men?

Returning to the Sell et al. study, the general structure of their methodology was as follows: (1) collect voice samples from participants originating from a wide range of cultures, by having them utter a sentence in their native language (students from the University of California at Santa Barbara; Tsimane Indians from Bolivia; Andean herder-horticulturalists from Argentina; and Romanian students); (2) measure their physical strength/formadibility using an assortment of metrics (e.g., chest strength, flexed bicep circumference, and handgrip strength); (3) get independent raters to listen to the utterances and then rate the voices on a 1-7 scale on height, weight, and physical strength; (4) calculate the concordance between the actual and perceived strengths.

Here are some of the key findings:

(1) Highly significant correlations were obtained between the actual and perceived strengths. In other words, people are quite adept at gauging physical strength by simply hearing an individual's voice.

(2) The ability to infer physical strength from an individual's voice was operative irrespective of whether the independent raters were evaluating an utterance in a language that they are familiar with or not. Thus the voice metric driving this effect is independent of language-specific constraints.

(3) The size of the effect was stronger when judging men's voices.

(4) The effect remained significant even when controlling for the height and weight of those who made the utterances.

Why would we have evolved this ability? In many instances, it makes evolutionary sense for same-sex rivals (typically males) to avoid an actual fight (to avoid injuries if not death) by gauging one another's formidability via a wide assortment of honest signals. In this case, simply hearing a rival's voice might avert a bloody fight!

Finally: I am assuming that the PT bloggers who express "offense" when they see teaser images of sexy women will be equally disturbed by my use of a photo depicting a sexy, muscular, and shirtless man. Anything short of that would be sexist on your part.

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