(Voice) Pitching In Courtship And The Competition
Jenny Galvao

67865829_18e7655583_bAccording to research done by Juan David Leongómez of the University of Liverpool and associates, voice pitch adjustment is common in many social contexts, especially in those that might be related to romantic as well as competitive situations. They found that these voice pitch alteration is done to increase listeners’ attractiveness perceptions.

Men vary their voice pitches when speaking with females whom they judge to be more attractive. The researchers found that this tends to create the impression that they are more caring and understanding. Men also tend to make their voices more masculine. The researchers say that this leads to better potential rewards.

“[M]odulation of F0 occurred flexibly within a human courtship context in both men and women, and was sufficient to influence proceptivity towards the speaker independently of listeners’ understanding of verbal content,” say the researchers.

In the first experiment, the researchers tested whether individuals modified their voice pitches during conversations geared towards either competitors, or potential romantic partners. Male and female participants each viewed 12 videos of about 20 seconds in length each, with attractive females, and attractive males in the videos (as judged previously by independent raters).

Next, the participants were asked to record response videos. Participants were instructed to either explain why they would like to date the person in the video (when responding to opposite-sex videos), and why they should be chosen over the other person for a date in that specific video (in response to the same-sex videos).

The results showed that women were quite sensitive to the attractiveness of the other women who were perceived as competitors, and they aimed to increase their own attraction by use of their voice pitch. Essentially, whenever individuals of each gender had high motivation, they spoke with an increase in their voice variability.

“The acoustic analysis revealed that variability in F0 was especially sensitive to manipulation of social context and varied across social contexts in strikingly similar ways across languages,” say the researchers.

This shows that not only do we tend to make specific alternations in our voices when we are trying to impress someone attractive, but we also do it when we find ourselves in competition with another member of the same-sex. Although there were not any differences in the intensity, the variability was quite different across each context. Surprisingly, in the attractive condition, men seemed to adjust their pitch to one that was higher rather than lower, but this can be explained by the increase in variability.

Sometimes, we are motivated more highly by being in competition with someone, rather than engaging in courtship. Perhaps this gives us a sense of achievement (when we succeed of course), and thus the potential reward is not only obtaining a partner, but also proving that we are superior to someone else.

One of the key takeaways from the study was that men and women tend to modify their voice when trying to impress a member of the opposite sex and did this even more when that person was rated as attractive. Men and women also change their voice to be more attractive in competitive scenarios.

About the Author: Jenny Galvao is an undergraduate student at the University of Guelph studying psychology.

Image Credit: Katie Tegtmeyer


Leongómez, Juan David; Jakub Binter; Lydie Kubicová; Petra Stolarová; Katerina Klapilová and Jan Havlícek, S. Craig Roberts. Vocal Modulation During Courtship Increases Proceptivity Even in Naive Listeners. Evolution and Human Behavior. 2014. doi: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2014.06.008.