Voice pitch: a window into the communication of social power

Curr Opin Psychol. 2020 Jun:33:154-161. doi: 10.1016/j.copsyc.2019.07.028. Epub 2019 Jul 21.

Abstract

Pitch is the most perceptually salient acoustic property of the voice and influences perceptions of characteristics related to social power, such as dominance and leadership abilities. Voice pitch is also highly sexually differentiated; men vocalize approximately one octave below women. We consider the evolution of this sex difference, and how this sheds light on the human tendency to defer to individuals with lower voice pitch. We present new meta-analyses linking lower pitch to higher testosterone (total n=763) and upper-body strength (total n=845) and review other recent evidence linking voice pitch to power. We find that these relationships are typically modest and consider why voice pitch has comparatively larger effects on power-related perceptions, such as perceived size and dominance, in laboratory studies. Although more data are needed, we conclude that voice pitch is likely to be an honest signal associated with success in status and contest competition.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Communication*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leadership
  • Male
  • Muscle Strength
  • Pitch Perception*
  • Power, Psychological*
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Social Dominance
  • Testosterone*
  • Voice*

Substances

  • Testosterone