Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 64, Issue 10, pp 1673–1683 | Cite as

Vocal masculinity is a robust dominance signal in men

  • Sarah E. Wolff
  • David A. PutsEmail author
Original Paper


Dominance assessment is important in mating competition across a variety of species, but little is known about how individuals’ own quality affects their assessment of potential rivals. We conducted two studies to test whether men’s own dominance affects their attentiveness to a putative dominance signal, vocal masculinity, when assessing competitors. Study I examined dominance ratings made by men in relation to their self-rated physical dominance. Study II examined dominance ratings made by men in relation to objective measures of their physical dominance, including size, strength, testosterone, and physical aggressiveness. Vocal masculinity strongly affected dominance ratings, but a man’s own dominance did not alter his attention to vocal masculinity when assessing dominance. However, men who rated themselves high on physical dominance rated the voices of other men lower on dominance and reported more sex partners (study I). Men with intermediate testosterone concentrations rated the voices of other men lower on dominance (study II). These results confirm the effect of vocal masculinity on dominance perceptions, provide further evidence that dominance is relevant to mating success, and shed new light on how men assess the dominance of rivals and potential allies. Our results suggest that attention to dominance signals may depend less on the observer’s own dominance in species with coalitional aggression, where individuals must assess others not only in relation to themselves but also in relation to each other. Among men, the effect of a deep, masculine voice on perceptions of dominance appears to be robust and unmediated by the formidability of the listener.


Dominance Formant frequency Fundamental frequency Mating success Sexual selection Voice pitch 



We thank Robert Burriss for helpful suggestions on statistical analyses and comments on the manuscript; Bradly Alicea, Michael Burla, Lisa Brevard, Rodrigo Cárdenas, Rachel Chandler, Melina Durhal, Rebecca Frysinger, Christina Jerzyk, Sana Khan, Jerome Lee, Mallory Leinenger, Erin MacCourtney, Heather Malinowski, Ernestine Mitchell, Joe Morehouse, Rebecca Prosser, John Putz, Melinda Putz, Linda Snyder, Sara Sutherland, Lisa Vroman, Tyesha Washington, and Molly Zolianbawi for their conscientious assistance in study preparation and data collection; Julio Gonzalez and Drew Rendall for their advice on measuring formant frequencies; Elizabeth Hampson and Bavani Rajakumar for their assistance with hormone assays; and Marc Breedlove, Steven Gaulin, Cynthia Jordan, and Kittie Verdolini for providing research support.

Ethical standards

Experiments conducted in the present study comply with the current laws of the country in which they were performed.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyPennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA

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