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. Manx

    Let's all take a deep breath and adjust our tinfoil hats.

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

    For those who call Mike Tyson an outlier, also take a look at Lennox Lewis, or perhaps Bruce Lee. How many fighters with soft voices should I name before they stop being outliers?

    June 21, 2010 at 14:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Chris

    Bob, I am pretty sure Mike Tyson's voice was not from an injury as you say. He started boxing in juvenile lockup (due to various offenses including fighting in the streets often due to being made fun of for his voice). So the high – voice had to have been preexisting to boxing.

    June 21, 2010 at 14:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. ridiculi

    Really? Couture, St Pierre...etc are some of the most soft spoken tough guys in the world. I really don't believe this study whatsoever.

    Harsh voices, deep voices sound intimidating and most just assume they are heavy fisted and will throw down....Not true at all.

    June 21, 2010 at 14:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Twinbot

    I've scanned this story a couple of times, and I can't find a specific reference as to what qualities make for a formidable voice inclined toward conflict. It is, essentially, a worthless post.

    Are the qualities depth, speed of language, language use, inflection ... what?

    This is very poor writing, indeed.

    June 21, 2010 at 14:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Justin

    I would like to read more about this study, so far from what I read it really says nothing valid. It sounds to me like they were relating upper body strength, and frequency of fights with "Toughness"??
    I am 6'1 265 lbs, played collegiate level sports, in decent shape, and I have never been in a fight. And I wouldn't say my voice is terribly deep.
    I think I am a "tough" person, mainly because I provide for myself, and feel capable to protect myself and those I care about if needed! I'm not sure what my voice has to do with all this, other than the fact that I know how to keep it calm in times of tension, and raise it when the time dictates.
    It is a shame that being "tough" has been relegated to equaling a study of Bench Press, Low impulse control, and a baritone voice.

    June 21, 2010 at 14:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Lee, Mays Landing, NJ

    Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan... not just Mike Tyson... Muhammad Ali didn't have the deepest timber either (although he was no Mike Tyson, lol).

    Obviously the correlation is far from absolute and would have enough exceptions to make it kind of worthless.

    And if you saw Pee Wee Herman vs. Arnold Schwarzenegger, you'd be going on a lot more than their voices to figure things out.

    June 21, 2010 at 14:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. KDW

    To the person who said the deepness of your voice is dependent on the size of your diaphragm. That is incorrect. The deepness of your voice is dependent on the size of your larynx and pharynx. Your larynx is where your vocal cords are located. The larger and thicker the vocal cords the deeper the voice. There is a correlation b/tw the thickness of the vocal cords and levels of testosterone. Your pharynx is where the sound resonates as it travels to your oral cavity. Think of it like the difference between a violin and cello. The larger the resonating cavity the lower the pitch. Usually larger people also have larger pharynxes. Your diaphragm is like the motor for speech. It helps you force the air out. If your diaphragm is damaged or weakened due to illness then you may be only able to speak at a whisper but your voice would be just as deep or as high as before.

    June 21, 2010 at 14:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. MarketingMajor

    I think it boils down to a few real things... Ability to fight, stamina and what I think is most important.. A high pain threshold. I cant tell you how many tough guys get k0'd because they cant take a punch or the realize they dont want to get hit again by a stronger opponent. To me.. voice has NOTHING to do with it.

    June 21, 2010 at 14:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Ben

    I would guess that some men with deeper voices are similar to men who have naturally muscular physiques or who are tall–they're used to being seen as powerful and are treated deferentially by others. This can lead to either a sense of entitlement or at the very least, lesser control over their emotions than men who aren't perceived as being so "tough." So they're more likely to get into situations where they might fight.

    I've seen this with my 16-year-old nephew; he was a pretty soft-spoken kid until he suddenly shot up to a bulky six feet, and now has developed a pretty belligerent personality.

    June 21, 2010 at 14:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Mike V

    Bruce Smith, probably the toughest NFL Defensive End of all time also had a very feminine voice. I wouldn't mess with that brother.

    June 21, 2010 at 14:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Jeff

    This study just evaluated how many fights a person is in based on their voice to say that someone is stronger. Huh?! So somebody with a "tough" possibly belligerent voice gets into a lot of fights? Give me a break... that says nothing about upper body strength. I'm betting that really big guys don't get in many fights because no one wants to mess with them. It's the talk tough morons who get into fights a lot.

    June 21, 2010 at 14:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. VoiceofReason

    I certainly don't have a high pitched voice, but at 5'8" 170lbs I don't have a deep voice. I may not sound "tough" because I don't have a really deep voice but don't ask the 23 professional fighters I've beaten in MMA (23-2 record). I believe people can detect fear in another persons eyes. This is why I NEVER get into fights in public. If there is a disagreement, I speak to the person eye to eye and they instinctively know that I'm not playing around. A persons voice has zero bearing on my approach to them.

    June 21, 2010 at 14:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. John

    James Earl Jones must be the toughest guy in the world...

    June 21, 2010 at 14:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. dave mcnich

    HEY!!!! LISTEN UP!!! I sound tough, I am tough, and if you don't shut the hell up, I'll whip your ass, that simple. Now go take a nap.

    June 21, 2010 at 14:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. meknows

    Mike Tyson didn't have a throat injury. As a matter of fact, it was his voice and ridicule of it, that got him into fights in his younger days.

    June 21, 2010 at 14:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Jarod

    When we're on the subject of "meat-heads," I'd like to point out that there are a few who have posted comments to this article. This study is obviously lacking. Men and women who have stronger voices probably have higher levels of testosterone. Does this alone make you a better fighter? No. If you have a weaker voice, does this mean you're not a good fighter? No. This study is a huge waste of time and money. IF the strength of a persons voice is based on levels of testosterone, then one could only deduce and conclude that a person with a stronger voice has more testosterone to use. Testosterone doesn't make you a good fighter but it will help you develope muscles that will enhance your ability to fight. I'd be willing to bet that not one person holding this study has ever been in a fight so what would they know? Who the hell is funding these people?

    June 21, 2010 at 14:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Krista

    I find it interesting that so many people who are commenting assume that the voices that were thought of to be stronger/fighters were "deeper". I don't think the article actually says that... it just says that people were able to detect it in the voice. This overall assumption may also lend credence to this theory.

    June 21, 2010 at 15:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. seiscat

    The study shows that we make instinctual judgement calls based on outdated social criteria. This could easily impact employment opportunities and other such selective activities. Knowing this helps us balance the playing field in available opportunies for all – that is not trivial nor a joke.

    June 21, 2010 at 15:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. guest

    Correlation is meaningless. It's like believing that you can only win the lottery because there's a correlation between being financially secure and winning the lottery. There's a correlation between people pleasing and making more money. There's a correlation between good sex and big organs. If you live by statistical sampling, the correlation is that you live in a bubble of your own making and need a reality check. This is not cause and effect people.

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

    The smallest guy with the squeakiest voice at the martial arts school I once attended routinely demolished everyone including the big tough guys with the deepest voices (whose pick up trucks were parked outside ...the ones w the jacked up suspension jobs)

    June 21, 2010 at 15:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Jacob

    This case proves nothing.

    Not only do several of the individuals speak in different languages (of which the perceiver is obviously going to have a bias towards whether it sounds 'tough' or not), but they do not ever claim that they all said the exact same thing.

    Obviously, someone whom is more educated and therefore less likely to be physically strong is going to use larger words and seem less 'tough' due to this (unfortunately, there aren't many socrates in this world).

    Furthermore, someone whom has been in many fights (and presumably won them, making them 'tougher' than most) is going to speak, most likely, with a rather large ego. If you win in a lot of fights, you're probably a bit full of yourself. This will also be reflected in the speech.

    All this study proves is something that's been proven many, many times over already. Speech patterns are influenced by your life experiences and level of intelligence. Congratulations, now please stop making broad generalizations such as 'male voice has cues of physical strength'. You are scientists. Your job is not to confuse people with terrible word choice simply because you have some bias or want to make some claim without properly testing it with the scientific method, or at least generating a proper study.

    June 21, 2010 at 15:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Austin Tx

    Nope. Steroids, Testosterone, Build, actual physical strength... drug usage... history of abuse..etc.. all debunk this. Most people do not fight enormous men. Likewise, it's usually the skinny outcast alcholics starting fights in bars. Gang members are some of the most common fighters, and they throw statistics off greatly. Some of the most soft spoken people are the most devestating fighters. some of the hardest voices I have heard are gentle giants or out of shape pacifists. This study is relevant in about 25% of reality.

    June 21, 2010 at 15:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Leah (TXanimal)

    What a bunch of nonsense.

    I'm a competitive bodybuilder and powerlifter and have worked with some of the strongest and physically toughest men & women in the country. Some have deep voices, some don't. Some are jokesters, some are quiet. Some aren't very intelligent, and some have multiple degrees. One thing I can say is I have yet to meet one who is prone to physical violence. Even those who supposedly juice. Honestly, most of us who are big and physically strong have no need to fight...nobody will mess with us!

    Isn't AIDS or cancer a more pressing medical issue?

    June 21, 2010 at 15:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Tyler D

    bunch of BS. What about women? What about the 100 pound squire boy who stands by the side of Knight and Master in pitched battle? History reverberates with stories of those under dogs who go to far greater lengths and personal victories than those we consider "tough". Usually, the opposite is true. The bigger and tougher and meaner a guy looks usually means he's a big teddy bear. Its the little guys who are the scrappers. Skinny guys fight till they're burger...

    June 21, 2010 at 15:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Larry W

    The study results are not a surprise. Whether they are true is another question, however. Humans, being primate animals, can be expected to have certain characteristics which evolution has render important for an individual's survival (long enough to have viable offspring) - statistically - just like the rest of the animal kingdom.

    Depending on circumstances, the characteristic mentioned here can contribute to sexual selection or not, and improve the likelihood of surviving offspring, or the opposite effect, such as increasing likelihood of injury and thus inability to provide for the offspring.

    June 21, 2010 at 15:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Mike from Seattle

    This article doesn't say anything about the voices being deeper or what they considered a "tough sounding" voice. There are a number of voice variants that may not be deeper or have a rough sound, but they came across in a tone that led the listener to believe the individual would be "tough". Tyson might sound like a girlie man but the way he talks, how he expresses himself, could have a "tough sound" to the listener...BaaWaaWaaWaa!!

    June 21, 2010 at 15:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. John Pepp

    I remember once at work an electrician was repairing something at our factory and he had a high pitch voice. The electrician was 6'4" or 6'5" and I guess weighed around 250 lbs, needless to say a big guy. Well a UAW worker thought he was being funny for the electrician was on a ladder and decided to make fun of him. All of the sudden the guy jumps down from the latter and picks the guy up by the throat and slams him against the wall. Needless to say the UAW worker wasn't going to be making fun of him anymore and he probably thought because the guy didn't sound tough that he wasn't. I'm sure he won't make that mistake again. I call this article phooey and I didn't use Mike Tyson as an example 😉

    June 21, 2010 at 15:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Healing Enzo

    Find the person having triplets with natural childbirth & you found the "toughest person on the planet". Listen to their voice.

    June 21, 2010 at 15:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Bill

    A better study would be to determine the effect of how posting irrelevant stories are to CNN's reputation as a "news" organization.

    June 21, 2010 at 15:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Saly

    Waste of money! Use the money to research cancer, Alzheimers, autism, or.... anything else! Leave things like this to middle school science projects.

    June 21, 2010 at 16:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. flawedStudy

    Exactly fellas....I agree with all the rest of you...LOL!!!! IRON MIKE!!! definitely debunks this silly theory....LOL!!!!!

    June 21, 2010 at 16:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Martin

    Why would they try to establish a link to fighting? Physical strength has many uses, and many better uses than fighting, whether we are talking about civilized or caveman society!

    June 21, 2010 at 16:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. jeff

    I'm still waiting for the voice study of women and how that correlates to their sex drive : ))

    June 21, 2010 at 16:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Vanessa

    Of course a lot of you would say that this study was a waste of time, etc, but information like this gives us an insight on our ancenstors, and the evolution of mankind.

    June 21, 2010 at 16:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. DFL

    Wait a minute – if a man's voice sounded 'tougher', then wouldn't that imply that people would try to AVOID getting into a fight with that man? Who would pick a fight with someone whom they thought would be difficult to beat? It seems that evaluating a man's actual toughness by the number of fights he'd actually been involved in would be a bad indicator...

    June 21, 2010 at 16:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Charles Gannon

    Why is this news ?

    June 21, 2010 at 16:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Jason

    Useless study...how about someone study how to plug oil leaks.

    June 21, 2010 at 16:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Eddie

    Actually, there are many exceptions to the rule....but Tyson may not have been an exception had he not learned the science of boxing and learned how to effectively throw a hook or upper cut. Had he been facing a man on one one in the street armed with only what street fighting skills he'd developed and had actually never been trained to throw a punch.... Or had it been thousands of years ago and he had to fight with only rocks and spears that may have also proven to be a different story..

    June 21, 2010 at 16:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Joe Blow

    Listen to Arnold Schwarzenegger in movies and tv shows prior to his voice coaching. Not too impressive.

    June 21, 2010 at 16:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Frank in Pensacola, FL

    Amazing that a) we could or should waste time commenting on this study and b) that someone could or should waste time on the study in the first place. Gee, maybe the next study will examine the impact of cartoon and movie stereotype tough-guys voices on the tendency of college students to rate how tough somebody's voice sounds to them. That way we could filter out a few media effects that might otherwise bias an 'important' study like this.

    Really...not newsworthy. Just somebody's attempt to prove to their committee they used the tools of science well enough to warrant getting their degree. And, even that decision is in doubt given the description here!

    June 21, 2010 at 16:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. MrTurtle

    Suge Knight is surprisingly soft-spoken as well, you would never assume he's the big intimidating guy he is if u only had his voice to judge with.

    June 21, 2010 at 16:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Dan

    To most of the posters thus far, the following snippet might be of interest:

    "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."

    Thus, despite what many commenters are saying, the researchers found that there was no relationship between pitch and perceived strength. So it's very possible that the individuals named thus far as "tough," including Mike Tyson and various MMA fighters, might still be perceived as tough and/or strong based on voice samples.

    June 21, 2010 at 16:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. gaga

    what a waste of money for the study. what good is this information?

    June 21, 2010 at 16:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. z

    Why use a photo of some oiled body worshipper who has probably run from every fight he ever saw?

    June 21, 2010 at 16:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Rasabu

    Hmmm....Certainly can't be about pitch. Lot's of gay men with large upper bodies have rather interesting voices.

    June 21, 2010 at 16:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. z

    All those citing Mike Tyson as an example obviously did not read the full article or they would see that pitch and timber were not factors.

    June 21, 2010 at 16:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. MGD

    Stupido. How dumb is this. Yes. Mike tyson is a prime example. Yes, and remember that finger lenght tells the the length of a mans phallus. Well i must have broken that one because I have a large phallus and small fingers. And all yes, i too remember the one about gay men walking which is totally false, becuase i know some pretty feminine men that are 100 percent hetero, and macho construction men who are 100 percent homo. Studies like these are foolish.

    June 21, 2010 at 16:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. lucidanne

    Wow, a lot of people are quick to bring up Mike Tyson. The article does say that pitch and timbre have nothing to do with it.

    June 21, 2010 at 16:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. willy

    Everyone keeps mentioning Mike Tyson, but the article states that pitch has nothing to do with it. I wonder if reading comprehension does?

    June 21, 2010 at 17:02 | Report abuse | Reply
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