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June 21st, 2010
10:11 AM ET

Men's voices may predict strength

By Elizabeth Landau
CNN.com Health Writer/Producer

Some guys sound tough - and according to a new study, that may a good way of predicting whether they really are.

Results  in the current Proceedings of the Royal Society B found that people can accurately evaluate the upper-body strength based on men's voices from four different populations and language groups. The voice samples came from the Tsimane of Bolivia, Andean herder-horticulturalists from Argentina, and college students from the United States and Romania.

Researchers recorded body size and strength measurements from women and men in each of these groups. These participants also reported how many fights they had been involved in during the last four years.

Then, undergraduates from the University of California, Santa Barbara, rated the voices on physical strength, height and weight. For the sample of male voices from the United States, raters assessed "how tough he would be in a physical fight."

The study found that, for the sample where data were available, the higher the perceived fighting ability, the more fights the man in the voice sample had reported being involved in during the last four years. It is not known how many fights these men won, but previous research suggests that "more formidable individuals are those more likely to engage in fights," the authors wrote.]

For the rest of the samples, regardless of language spoken in the speech samples, participants rating the voices reported mostly accurate predictions for physical strength for men, but not for women. There was no significant difference between how good men and women were at evaluating the voices.

The results support the idea that the human voice, especially the male voice, has cues of physical strength, and that humans have evolved to be able to predict fighting ability based on those cues. This would have had great benefit to human ancestors, who may have used this information to their survival benefit - for instance, in choosing whom to fight with and whom not to confront.

Update: The study did not determine specifically what qualities in the voices were associated with greater strength. Researchers found, however, that pitch and timbre were not explanatory factors. In other words, contrary to what you might expect, lower pitch was not associated with greater perceived strength.


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soundoff (164 Responses)
  1. New York

    were the use and consumtion of Cigarettes Coffee and Hard Liquor factored inot this sturdy?

    June 21, 2010 at 17:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. shibby dude

    Troy Polamalu must be an outlier as well.

    June 21, 2010 at 17:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Spydertofly

    First question would be what was the actual sample size? I would say it's not about pitch but more about tone, delivery, and intent.

    It terms of fighting prowess that's more about training and has nothing to do with a persons voice. Bruce Lee was small in stature and his voice wasn't deep. Yet pound for pound he was very strong and his training would put him in a very elite category of fighting prowess. Royce Gracie in my mind doesn't have a voice that equates to his fighting prowess, and there are many examples in the mma alone.

    I would seriously like to see this sample size because in the real world this study to me is about as credible as BP's initial reports about how much oil was spilling into the gulf. That and I wonder how much of this fighting is attributed to drinking. Was that including in the study? I'm betting not.

    June 21, 2010 at 17:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. johnny

    As the article update states "lower pitch was not associated with greater perceived strength." So the deep voice = tough guy conclusion is wrong.

    June 21, 2010 at 17:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Marie

    So there is a correlation between male voice and physical strength, but I still do not know what the correlation is? What is this, some kind of bait and hook thing? What kind of study concludes that there is a correlation but doesn't specifically state what qualities in the voices were associated with greater strength?

    June 21, 2010 at 17:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Jonathan

    Maybe it would help if the actual study had been posted. Google the study and you can find a bit more detail. It was amazing how many people on this thread commented who clearly skimmed the study (or did not comprehend it). It never said toughness = deep voice, in fact the article went out of the way to point out this was not the case. The main point, indeed, is that there was no correlation between a man's strength and the pitch or timbre. In other words it was something else that let people guess correctly. That is the important part of the article.

    Here is some more information:

    London, June 16 : A man's voice is an indicator of his upper body strength, according to a study.

    The study, led by Aaron Sell at the University of California, Santa Barbara, found that both men and women can accurately assess a man"s upper body strength based on his voice alone, suggesting that the male voice may have evolved as an indicator of fighting ability.

    The researchers recorded the voices of more than 200 men from the US, Argentina, Bolivia and Romania, who all repeated a short phrase in their native tongue.

    Sell"s team also put the men through a battery of tests of upper body strength, reports New Scientist.

    After listening to the recordings, university students could accurately predict the strength of the men, based on a seven-point scale from "weak" to "strong" – regardless of the language used.

    The voice analysis provided just as much information about a speaker"s strength as photographs.

    What aspects of voice we link with strength remain unknown, since there was no correlation between a man"s strength and the pitch or timbre of his voice.

    That"s surprising, said David Puts at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, since previous research showed deeper voices were rated as coming from stronger men.

    The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society. (ANI)

    June 21, 2010 at 18:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. mae

    Alrighty then, this study is so important, without it we would..umm...umm..hmmmm..oh well, we'd go on as usual.

    June 22, 2010 at 13:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Jack

    Yeah, Mike Tyson has a very effeminate voice, but I would presume he is very strong...... I guess there are exceptions to every rule.

    June 22, 2010 at 16:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Mike

    IDK...I had by far the deepest voice at my music school, but because of my thin, 5'6" body, am "officially" labeled a baritone, not a bass – since basses are large (in height and often in girth). Going completely by deep and extremely loud voice, though, it would be assumed in the music realm that I'm taller with more body cavity for resonance...funny, eh? The curious case of me has debunked this article, I guess.

    June 22, 2010 at 21:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Jesse

    We Americans are a genius lot-The first 20 people commenting are talking about Mike Tyson and his high voice. ZOMG! Did you read the article or just look at the subtitled picture and call momma to read that for you? It clearly says that a high or low voice has nothing to do with how tough you are. Nor diaphragm size! (rolls his eyes heavenward)

    June 23, 2010 at 09:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Aaron Sell

    I've actually never published a study that didn't receive the following two comments:

    1). The data are so obviously correct and this is a waste of money because everyone already knows this.

    2). The data are wrong and this isn't correct.

    That these two are mutually incompatible makes it very difficult for people like me (and writers like Dr. Gupta) to write reports.

    Most of the questions here are addressed in the actual paper:

    http://www.psych.ucsb.edu/research/cep/papers/voice_sell%20et%20al%206.2010.pdf

    June 24, 2010 at 16:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Steve

    Does kicking ass in Modern Warfare 2 count?

    July 14, 2010 at 20:16 | Report abuse | Reply
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    July 21, 2011 at 06:16 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.