, Volume 40, Issue 1, pp 135-144
Date: 08 Sep 2011

A modulatory effect of male voice pitch on long-term memory in women: evidence of adaptation for mate choice?

Abstract

From a functionalist perspective, human memory should be attuned to information of adaptive value for one’s survival and reproductive fitness. While evidence of sensitivity to survival-related information is growing, specific links between memory and information that could impact upon reproductive fitness have remained elusive. Here, in two experiments, we showed that memory in women is sensitive to male voice pitch, a sexually dimorphic cue important for mate choice because it not only serves as an indicator of genetic quality, but may also signal behavioural traits undesirable in a long-term partner. In Experiment 1, we report that women’s visual object memory is significantly enhanced when an object’s name is spoken during encoding in a masculinised (i.e., lower-pitch) versus feminised (i.e., higher-pitch) male voice, but that no analogous effect occurs when women listen to other women’s voices. Experiment 2 replicated this pattern of results, additionally showing that lowering and raising male voice pitch enhanced and impaired women’s memory, respectively, relative to a baseline (i.e., unmanipulated) voice condition. The modulatory effect of sexual dimorphism cues in the male voice may reveal a mate-choice adaptation within women’s memory, sculpted by evolution in response to the dilemma posed by the double-edged qualities of male masculinity.