Voice pitch modulation in human mate choice

Proc Biol Sci. 2018 Dec 19;285(1893):20181634. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2018.1634.


Inter-individual differences in human fundamental frequency ( F0, perceived as voice pitch) predict mate quality and reproductive success, and affect listeners' social attributions. Although humans can readily and volitionally manipulate their vocal apparatus and resultant voice pitch, for instance, in the production of speech sounds and singing, little is known about whether humans exploit this capacity to adjust the non-verbal dimensions of their voices during social (including sexual) interactions. Here, we recorded full-length conversations of 30 adult men and women taking part in real speed-dating events and tested whether their voice pitch (mean, range and variability) changed with their personal mate choice preferences and the overall desirability of each dating partner. Within-individual analyses indicated that men lowered the minimum pitch of their voices when interacting with women who were overall highly desired by other men. Men also lowered their mean voice pitch on dates with women they selected as potential mates, particularly those who indicated a mutual preference (matches). Interestingly, although women spoke with a higher and more variable voice pitch towards men they selected as potential mates, women lowered both voice pitch parameters towards men who were most desired by other women and whom they also personally preferred. Between-individual analyses indicated that men in turn preferred women with lower-pitched voices, wherein women's minimum voice pitch explained up to 55% of the variance in men's mate preferences. These results, derived in an ecologically valid setting, show that individual- and group-level mate preferences can interact to affect vocal behaviour, and support the hypothesis that human voice modulation functions in non-verbal communication to elicit favourable judgements and behaviours from others, including potential mates.

Keywords: fundamental frequency; mate choice; non-verbal communication; sexual selection; speed dating; vocal control.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Marriage / psychology*
  • Pitch Discrimination*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Voice / physiology*

Associated data

  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.4320851