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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 (169 Responses)
  1. Matt

    Mike Tyson debunks this theory...

    June 21, 2010 at 10:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Bill

    Case in point: Mike Tyson

    June 21, 2010 at 10:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. steve

    Guess Mike Tyson is an outlier, then.

    June 21, 2010 at 10:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. adam

    you fellas use Mike, one individual, out of billions to debunk this theory. You must both sound like five year old girls. 😉

    June 21, 2010 at 11:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Michael

    Funny, I read this and thought of Mike Tyson the entire time, then I see the other comments! LOL

    June 21, 2010 at 11:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. april

    yet another stupid waste of time study. so what did we learn? that men who sound tough may or may not actually be tough. so now a bunch of morons will be going around trying to speak with a deeper voice. and what difference does it make when we live in a society where physical altercations are usually illegal? so what if you are the alpha male, you can't go around beating people up. how about we put these minds and resources to work researching things that actually matter? like cancer, birth defects, etc.

    June 21, 2010 at 11:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bob

      If we told other scientists "that's stupid, don;t waste your time on so-and-so" we wouldn't have half of the technology we use today. Research is not a rigid linear process. Sometimes research that is "stupid" could become building blocks of a breakthrough.

      Case in point, penicillin. Rigid linear production oriented research would have never discovered penicillin. The bacteria was seen by scientist after scientist until Alexander Fleming stopped and looked closer at his petri dishes. Some fungus was destroying the disease causing bacteria all around it in his dishes. Instead of doing what 90% of his colleagues did, throw away the dishes, he followed up studying this fungus in spite of the "fact" it was a "diversion" or "a waste of time".

      In this case if the researchers follow up on this study to find out why they got the result they got, it could be used to prevent fights. If we can teach a weaker kid to sound tougher than he looks we could have less bullying in schools and give that weaker kid more confidence. We teach police officers sound tougher to prevent violent attacks on them. The threat of real pain can be a great deterrent to would be fighters.

      July 19, 2010 at 17:32 | Report abuse |
  7. Baratone

    Barry White as well

    June 21, 2010 at 11:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Dre

    Add Ronnie Coleman to that list.

    June 21, 2010 at 11:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Bob

    Mike Tyson's voice is due to an injury suffered whne he was young. A former trainer choked him when Tyson became beligerent with his daughter

    June 21, 2010 at 11:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. dave

    Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and Anderson Silva also debunk this theory.

    June 21, 2010 at 11:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Philip S

    I can think of many professional fighters (boxers and MMA) who render this theory silly. Many guys with borderline "sissy," feminine, or high-pitched voices can really fight, and possess much physical strength!

    June 21, 2010 at 11:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Alex

    That's not really that amazing. Typically guys with deeper voices have larger diaphragms. Since guys with larger diaphragms would logically have more mass on their bones, they are stronger. Don't know about the fight bs though.

    June 21, 2010 at 11:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. .

    It is called Testosterone, the deeper your voice and the stronger you are, the higher your testosterone will be

    I thought these things were common sense, but I guess these Researchers need to find a way to justify their paychecks

    June 21, 2010 at 11:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Sybaris

    I suspect that the tone and vocabulary also correlates with intelligence.

    June 21, 2010 at 11:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Birly

    MikeTyson, Prince Naseem, Chris Eubank, Anderson Spider Silva (toughest man on the planet).....nonsense talk really

    June 21, 2010 at 11:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Homer500

    Matt,

    Whenever a study like this is reported, there's always someone who comes up with a counter example and claims it "debunks the theory." This study is not saying that *every* tough guy has a tough voice, just that there's a statistical correlation between being tough and sounding tough.

    Here's a simple example - height is correlated with gender, with men being taller, on average, than women. Now of course you or I could come up with an example of a short man or a tall woman, but that doesn't "debunk" anything. The correlation still exists.

    June 21, 2010 at 11:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. joe

    mike tyson suffered a throat injury
    when he was a teen.
    thats why he sounds like that

    June 21, 2010 at 11:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Big Fella

    Surely the more formidable physical specimens won't be in alot of fights because people won't want to fight them and get their asses handed to them. So the study prooves that big talkers get involved in fights alot.

    June 21, 2010 at 11:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Tim

    It didn't mention, at least in this article, qualities of the voice (the pitch) and how it related to strength and/or fighting ability. Ronnie Coleman, a repeat Mr. Olympia and incredibly strong body builder, also has a higher voice like Tyson. Not sure if these are the exceptions that prove the rule though..

    June 21, 2010 at 11:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. willie

    the article isn't indicating that a deep voice suggests a stronger/more menacing guy as most people might assume. it's saying that hearing certain cues in a voice (maybe even style of speech, tone, or other almost imperceptible voice traits) seems to correlate with that speaker's actual tendency toward aggression. high or low, a person's voice can imply an aggressive tendency; it all depends on how that voice is used. lot of people will read this thinking that stronger guys have deeper voices in most cases. not quite, baby.

    June 21, 2010 at 12:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Carol

    How about Jack LaLane.

    June 21, 2010 at 12:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. yourboycal

    This is not science. This is a joke. They shoudl really take the time to evaluate and make more testable predictable experiments before making it public. Seems like every scientists will do anything to be able to get a little media attention and a grant here and there . Im sick of these stories with half ass results that dont tell us shit then the obvious we already know.

    June 21, 2010 at 12:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. T Charles

    There's a major contradiction in the last paragraph (I suspect this is CNN's fault, not the study authors). It states (summarized):

    "The results support the idea that...humans have evolved to be able to predict fighting ability based on [voice] cues."

    However, the study only found a correlation between the PERCEIVED fighting ability (based on voice) and the number of fights that a person had been in during the last four years. Not actual fighting prowess.

    The authors of the study point out that "It is not known how many fights these men won..." So, it's inaccurate to say that humans have evolved to predict fighting ABILITY based on voice cues. What humans have in fact evolved for, is to know who is LIKELIER to get into fights based on voice cues. Whether they win these fights or not is outside the scope of the study, but it would be useful to answer this question.

    June 21, 2010 at 12:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Michele

    Yeah.......my very first thought before even reading this was about Mike Tyson......but he breaks all the rules anyhow.

    June 21, 2010 at 12:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Shelia

    This explains why men deepen their voice when they greet eachother.

    June 21, 2010 at 12:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Phil

    So how does Mike Tyson fit into this?

    June 21, 2010 at 12:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Edras

    and what about Mike Tyson? LOL.

    June 21, 2010 at 12:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Rich Leiva

    Listen to voice samples of all of the current UFC fighters. The result will also debunk this theory. Though the findings may generally be on target, it seems the key learning here is that voice is a 'perceived' attribute.

    June 21, 2010 at 12:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Swabbie58

    Interesting research–but to what end? The only conclusion is that "tough-sounding guys tend to be tougher?" Is there any practical use for this info? Is this a question that has bedeviled us for centuries, the answer to which generations of our ancestors worked to discover? Sorry folks. I find value in some really niche research projects, but this one strikes me as 1) pretty obvious without any research and 2) really rather pointless.

    June 21, 2010 at 12:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. sam

    what theory – it's bunk
    pure bunk same old fluff filler. last week it was identifying gay men by their swaying hips – so wrong; yeah get a group of effeminate men put them on a treadmill in the shadows and watch their hips sway – therefore, all gay men can be identified by the way they walk – NOT.

    Maybe this "research" can detect in a man's voice how many times he's going to jail.

    Of course Mike Tyson can't box because all black men have weak stomachs (remember that one?)

    June 21, 2010 at 12:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Eric

    This makes no sense to me; if you sound tough you get into more fights? How about if you sound tough(er) more people back down from you and dont fight. The higher the perceived fighting ability would make less people not more want to fight you, i.e who would you take on, the guy with the 3-ft sword or the one brandishing a toothpick.

    June 21, 2010 at 12:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Tracy

    Mike Tyson was born with a high-pitched voice and taunted for it as a child. Because of that he got into a lot of fights and it's one of the reasons he took up boxing.

    June 21, 2010 at 12:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Bruce

    You ever hear Mike Tyson talk? He sounds like a girl.

    June 21, 2010 at 12:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Bill

    Yet one more article posted by CNN that serves no purpose but to waste bandwidth.

    June 21, 2010 at 12:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Chris

    O RLY?

    June 21, 2010 at 12:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Edmundburkeson

    I'm sure this was a government sponsored study and that the IRS is frantically hiring employees that meet the voice criteria.

    June 21, 2010 at 12:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. regan

    I have known a lot of soft spoken guys that could rip heads off if inclined to do so..

    June 21, 2010 at 12:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. stephen

    Dang...if that's true...anyone survived a fight with James Earl Jones. I bet he's one bad mother!

    June 21, 2010 at 12:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. jr

    What a bunch of bs.

    June 21, 2010 at 12:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. JDH

    Comical. What a waste of time. Studying something for a college creditg is one thing but wasting money to help better understand what is already known.. come on. Background, genes experience partaking in certain activities all build these so called theories. Application and experience are just as important an attribute as physical presence.

    June 21, 2010 at 12:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Carrue

    It could also be that people with tough sounding voices make other people want to fight them. The voice could make them appear more aggressive than average and thus provoke regression in others.

    June 21, 2010 at 12:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. jman

    Reminds me of a line...

    THIS IS SPARTA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    June 21, 2010 at 12:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Peter

    It sounds like men whose voices sound tough and are thus perceived as such are more likely to be involved in a fight. I would think the statistics of those involved in a fight correlate much better to agressive behavioral issues or those in county lockup rather than to fitness or skill in fighting, or ability to fight. Case in point – most male police officers trained in martial arts are trained to de-escalate a fight when possible, and are well trained, and have the ability to win the fight. The base assumption that "the higher the number of fights an individual is involved in, then the better their skill at fighting" is deeply flawed.

    June 21, 2010 at 12:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. John

    The premise "more formidable individuals are those more likely to engage in fights", though supposedly based in research, seems flawed. The precept that fight participation is more likely in more formidable individuals would seem to indicate that either those individuals are A.) more prone to select fighting as the best solution to a situation, or B.) subject to actions by others that require a fight response. Voice correlation is accepted but perhaps more emphasis should be placed on identifying why these individuals are fighting, and why that is an indication of strength.

    June 21, 2010 at 12:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Dumb a$$ report. What a waste of time.

    Dumba$$ report. What a waste of time.

    June 21, 2010 at 12:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Erik Thompson

    Sam Elliot (Mask Movie: Cher's boyfriend). Man my girlfriend loved him from the first sentence..

    June 21, 2010 at 12:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Jeff

    Since when does strength equal fighting prowess? I would take George St. Pierre, a man of approximately 170 pounds, over most body builders any day of the week.

    June 21, 2010 at 12:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. JMil

    I mean seriously....

    June 21, 2010 at 12:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Mike

    And Anderson SIlva

    June 21, 2010 at 12:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Steele

    Actually, If you watched his documentary, Mike Tyson didn't like to fight. Out of his own mouth, he stated that he didn't like to fight and would prefer to run. So, this theory isn't debunked.

    June 21, 2010 at 12:41 | 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.