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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. john

    one word...mike tyson

    June 21, 2010 at 12:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. hahaha

    Physical fights are a crime in US.If you are a minor that should have detention or some thing.

    June 21, 2010 at 12:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Gregory

    OK, so this article tells me absolutely nothing. Did I miss something? I thought it would say something like higher pitched voices tend to mean weaker men, where deep harsh voices are tougher men. Based on previous comments, Mike Tyson definetely makes room for considerable argument, if that is what the article is suggesting.

    I hope government or university dollars were not wasted on this study.

    June 21, 2010 at 12:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Gerri Sue

    This theory is OPINION! I have seen guys with very high voices beat on another with a deep voice. Just because you sound tough doesnt mean you are. anyone can put on an act and deepen there voices, but that doesnt mean they can beat someone up who has a higher voice. heard the saying, "His bark is bigger than his bite"

    June 21, 2010 at 12:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Tomek Jankowski

    Another exception would be Theodore Roosevelt, who had a squeaky little voice. Do a search online for his 1912 speeches when he was the Bull Moose party presidential candidate; there are a couple recordings of his speeches.

    June 21, 2010 at 12:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. dave

    Lets see, Lack of intelligence + physical strength + poor self esteem + loud mouth + alcohol = a recipe for disaster. Strength may be a minor factor in this equation, I've run across many a scrawny runt that wanted to start a fight.

    June 21, 2010 at 12:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. neph

    I have yet to hear a really fearful voice from Bruce Lee or Jet Li.

    June 21, 2010 at 12:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Dave

    I can name a few UFC fighters that have higher voice than my sister.
    I think this theory is waaayyy more wrong than right.

    June 21, 2010 at 12:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Tyson

    This is the dumbest study I have ever heard. Absolutely ridiculous. Its funny actually. There is no way to link any of the evidence, the editor should be shot and fired for posting this

    June 21, 2010 at 12:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Joe

    Fedor, greatest HW fighter ever, debunks this theory.

    Shogun Rua, current LHW champion in the UFC has the voice of a scrawny teenager. Brock Lesnar, HW Champion of the UFC has the voice of an obese woman.

    The jogger I mugged for an iphone had a pretty husky voice, but he threw sloppy arm punches.

    June 21, 2010 at 12:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Chris

    So does Chuck Norris.

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

    April I am with you. Fix the oil leak, not an FING VOICE STUDY

    June 21, 2010 at 12:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Jay Kay

    Seth MacFarlane also falls off that radar.

    June 21, 2010 at 12:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Jay

    Yup, first person I thought of was Mike Tyson.

    June 21, 2010 at 12:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Drake

    The number of fights someone has been in has no bearing on how tough they are... I would be more likely to say that the number of fights an individual has been in is more connected to immaturity, than to physical strenght. I would concider myself physically fit, and a "formidable" individual, but have never been in a fight in my life outside of sports. I don't have a high voice like Mike Tyson, so I am pretty sure that the results of this study prove absolutly nothing.

    June 21, 2010 at 12:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. LtDan

    Mike is the odd man out, a statistical anomaly. There is no reason to doubt this theory based on one guy.

    June 21, 2010 at 12:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Kraznodar

    So..... I sound like a total wimp? I haven't been in a fight for 36 years.

    What I love about technology is that a lighter and a can of hair spray means toughness is irrelevant.

    June 21, 2010 at 12:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. sheikyerboutie

    Do researchers get paid for this stuff??? Where do I sign up to become a "researcher"?

    June 21, 2010 at 12:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. CynicLgrrl

    I can't believe this is even study worthy. jeezuz...

    June 21, 2010 at 12:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Dan

    So, maybe I'm missing it... but they never actually described what people said was a "tough sounding" voice. I mean... maybe the researchers thought Mike Tyson has a girly voice... so that kind of voice MUST be a tough guy... and he only sounds that way because he has a piece of ear stuck in his throat...

    June 21, 2010 at 12:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Sean

    We've got a guy in the office here who played college football and works out everyday.. He is probably the biggest, strongest, and most soft-spoken guy in this building of several hundred.

    June 21, 2010 at 12:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Guest1

    Thats funny.... I was ranked 14th in North America and won a couple of tournaments in Belguim for kickboxing and I have not been in a fight in more than 5 years... The one thing they teach you is to control your temper when you learn to fight... not get in drunken bar fights and show how tought you are.... one thing you learn is to watch out for the quite person who just sits confidently...what the heck does tone of voice have to do with anything? If someone was punched in the larnix and had to have surgery case in point with mike tyson... they voice changes.... mind you I do not belive he is a tough person... he never really fought anyone worth fighting except hollyfield who he had to bite the ear off of to throw him off his game.....

    June 21, 2010 at 12:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. dolphin

    It seems like this is pretty common sense. Testosterone causes a boy's voice to deepen during puberty, and it also promotes muscle growth. Therefore the more testosterone a male produces naturally, the lower his voice will deepen to during puberty and the easier it will be for him to develop muscle mass.

    Of course that's assuming all else is equal. A weightlifter with smaller amounts of testosterone is still obviously going to be able to far outlift a couch potato whose loaded with it.

    June 21, 2010 at 13:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Ken

    Right, because the greatest MMA fighter of all time, Fedor Emelianenko, is such a loud gruff guy?

    The dude is the softest, most passive gentle person outside the cage.

    June 21, 2010 at 13:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Peter Live!

    Gives Deep Throat a whole new meaning!

    SERIOUSLY......

    Deep, aggressive voice = tough? Is toughness THE determinent of who wins a (presumably physical) fight or confrontation?

    Wonder how Mickey Rooney would fare in all this?

    How often have we judged someone by their (phone?) voice, and been COMPLETELY at odds with reality – examples being the deep-voiced milqtoast, or the falsetto voiced body body?

    My own voice gives all of this the lie....a man's man who is always told ,"your pizza will be right there, Ma'am!"

    June 21, 2010 at 13:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. how2fish

    If the guy has a airborne or ranger patch on..how he sounds pretty much doesn't mean squat. And remember the size of the dog in the fight is not as important as the size of fight in the dog. Bad men come in all sizes and voices..only those that haven't much fighting experience don't understand that.

    June 21, 2010 at 13:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Patrick

    This isn't talking about trained fighters, it's talking about natural innate toughness in relation to your voice. Of course you can take anyone and train them to fight. But I think they mean if you take 2 common people w/ no classical fight training, chances are the tougher sounding one probably is tougher. My .02

    June 21, 2010 at 13:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Daryl

    If I come across someone who is about 6'-8", 300lbs with half of their teeth and brains wearing a t-shirt that says "Bubba," I could care less what their voice sounds like. It's highly doubtful that I would engage in physical combat with them.

    It's not how strong someone is, or how they sound, but rather just how far they're willing to take their aggression in the absence of any insight or self-control.

    June 21, 2010 at 13:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. jay

    Ricky Williams doesn't have the manliest voice and you'd be crazy to mess with him.

    After reading this, I can't help but think that proneness to getting into physical altercations has more to do with mental stability and a person's upbringing than it does the depth of one's voice.

    The strength part of the study generally makes sense, minus a few exceptions, but I think the "toughness" part makes the whole thing a little convoluted.

    June 21, 2010 at 13:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Patrick

    Yeah Peter...think about all those 400lb women you're having phone sex with.....LOL...

    June 21, 2010 at 13:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Eric

    I produced voice work for 10 years. The results of this study are a joke. Believe me you don't have be tough to sound tough. Whoever paid to have this completely useless and inaccurate study should get their money back with interest and the researchers should be thrown in jail for fraud.

    Note to the CNN reporter who posted this: Miss Landau, this is not journalism, you need to work harder.

    June 21, 2010 at 13:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Daryl

    The article does not say what type of cues are determinant. Everyone responding seems to think it has to do with masculinity or femininity.

    It might have to do with inflection, cadence or other characteristics of speech that provide the cues and absolutely nothing to do with tone.

    June 21, 2010 at 13:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Ballz

    LMAO @ Bill and Matt
    Very true
    The rules may need to be broken a little since he's just an animal and not of the human species.

    June 21, 2010 at 13:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Jeremy Sander

    I'm huge and sound like a woman

    June 21, 2010 at 13:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Sam

    Both my brother and myself have deep voices and are taller than average. I am also an avid weightlifter. Neither of us has been in a fight since high-school, which was about 15 years ago. Fighting is idiotic. So if someone heard one of us speak, they would think we were aggressive??? He's a banker now who likes to sip Earl Grey and listen to NPR, and I'm an English teacher who'd rather play Scrabble. In fact, the majority of bigger men I know are very laid back and not prone to violence at all.

    June 21, 2010 at 13:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. lacrosseson

    Wow, there's a surprise.
    Men with deeper voices have more testosterone and are more likely to be belligerent (or smokers).

    June 21, 2010 at 13:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Buck Jackson

    The truly 'tough' guy does not get into fights, or, talk about how many he has been in.

    June 21, 2010 at 13:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. AGuest9

    Actually, there is a "kid" who is a bagger at the grocery store that I shop at. He is a tall, stringy kid with the deepest voice I have ever heard in my life – and when he hells for a pricecheck, he doesn't need the intercom. Another outlier.

    June 21, 2010 at 13:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. dwight huth

    The tone of your voice does not have any direct bearing on how tough you are. Toughness is linked to intelligence. So in order to be tough one must first understand the mind frame of being intelligently tough. Muscle tough and intelligently dumb people are nothing more than walking steroid infested uncontrollable rage seeking people who are scared shitless of not being tough.

    June 21, 2010 at 13:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. TJ

    Muhammed Ali is another guy who "spoke softly but carried a big punch"-then there's Clint Eastwood "go ahead, make my scientific study- but next time, make it right !"

    June 21, 2010 at 13:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Sally

    I speak on the phone to literally 1,000s of men because I work as a phonesex operator and have anecdotal evidence to prove that this research is correct.

    June 21, 2010 at 13:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Nimrod

    Before you criticize a study, please learn the tiniest bit about logic and scientific reasoning. Citing a case (e.g. Mike Tyson) is an anecdote. Performing a scientific study across many cases produces data. here's the important part: An anecdote DOES NOT refute a conclusion based on data.

    We all know people who have lived to a ripe old age even though they smoked all their lives. This does not invalidate the well established fact that smoking, on average, cuts seven years off your life. And people who wear seat belts are sometimes killed in accidents. I know a guy who was shot in the head, and has lived a perfectly normal life. Does this invalidate the general observation that getting shot in the head is a bad thing? Don't think so.

    June 21, 2010 at 13:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. LostinOhio

    Listen to Randy Travis and Toby Keith, both with incredibly deep voices, then to see them next to one another they are opposite body types, heights, weights.
    You can't swing a dead cat without hitting a person who fails to meet this studies standard.

    June 21, 2010 at 13:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Bryan

    Well duhhh.....

    Larger men have bigger nasal cavities and larger voice boxes, leading to deeper and more resonant voices, in general. Big guys are more likely to get into fights they might win than small men who have known since they were 10 years old that fights = getting your butt kicked.

    So...bigger = lower (tougher) voices
    bigger also = more fights

    Thus, lower voice = more fights.

    Wow, you'd think these researchers never did mathematical proofs in high school.

    June 21, 2010 at 13:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Jimmy

    People who talk like stupid meat-heads probably get in more fights because they stoopid. Long as they fight amongst themselves I'm in favor.

    June 21, 2010 at 13:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. NYC10001

    In the case of Mike Tyson, perhaps sounding the way he did provided a great impetus and motivation for learning to fight well.

    June 21, 2010 at 13:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. John

    Two of the current toughest guys on the planet (George St. Pierre and Anderson Silva), both current UFC champions in respective weight classes would also debunk this theory...it's not just Tyson.

    June 21, 2010 at 13:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. anonymous

    seriously??? which dumb government official approved taxpayers' dollars to fund this research? i can tell you there are guys who act tough but when faced with confrontation... they are a bunch of whimps. i can tell you there are gay guys who are gym rats, look like steroid-induced rats, and act tough... but could beat the crap out of str8 guys who act tough. i can tell you there are skinny lean stick figure men who are introverted and shy but when faced with confrontation, they would beat the crap out of their attackers.

    all in all... why the hell are we wasting taxpayers' money to fund such a pathetic research? no wonder why our country is trillion of dollars in debt.

    June 21, 2010 at 14:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. papadock

    Nothing in the article states anyhting about a Deep voice being the indicator. it onlys says people made assumptions bases on the voice and were correct. We do not no what characteristics of the voice led them to that conclusion. mabe it had nothing to do with pitch.

    HMMMM here we go assuming again.

    June 21, 2010 at 14:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Task

    Great, another pointless study that makes assumptions not based on fact. All they've really determined is that based on the voice they can judge someone more VIOLENT, not more skilled at fighting. Being in more fights in a time period doesn't mean someone is a better fighter, it's more likely to indicate the person is a bully, and as we know, bullies pick on WEAK people to compensate for their own lack of fighting prowess. A far more accurate study would have focused on subjects with PROVEN fighting skill like boxers and martial artists.

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