Human Nature

, Volume 21, Issue 4, pp 406-427

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Different Vocal Parameters Predict Perceptions of Dominance and Attractiveness

  • Carolyn R. Hodges-SimeonAffiliated withDepartment of Anthropology, University of California
  • , Steven J. C. GaulinAffiliated withDepartment of Anthropology, University of California
  • , David A. PutsAffiliated withDepartment of Anthropology, Pennsylvania State University Email author 


Low mean fundamental frequency (F 0) in men’s voices has been found to positively influence perceptions of dominance by men and attractiveness by women using standardized speech. Using natural speech obtained during an ecologically valid social interaction, we examined relationships between multiple vocal parameters and dominance and attractiveness judgments. Male voices from an unscripted dating game were judged by men for physical and social dominance and by women in fertile and non-fertile menstrual cycle phases for desirability in short-term and long-term relationships. Five vocal parameters were analyzed: mean F 0 (an acoustic correlate of vocal fold size), F 0 variation, intensity (loudness), utterance duration, and formant dispersion (D f , an acoustic correlate of vocal tract length). Parallel but separate ratings of speech transcripts served as controls for content. Multiple regression analyses were used to examine the independent contributions of each of the predictors. Physical dominance was predicted by low F 0 variation and physically dominant word content. Social dominance was predicted only by socially dominant word content. Ratings of attractiveness by women were predicted by low mean F 0, low D f , high intensity, and attractive word content across cycle phase and mating context. Low D f was perceived as attractive by fertile-phase women only. We hypothesize that competitors and potential mates may attend more strongly to different components of men’s voices because of the different types of information these vocal parameters provide.


Dominance Mate choice Sexual selection Voice Voice pitch Formant dispersion