Skip to main content

Vocal masculinity is a robust dominance signal in men

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

References

  • Adkins-Regan E (2005) Hormones and animal social behavior. Princeton University Press, Princeton

    Google Scholar 

  • Andersson M (1994) Sexual selection. Princeton University Press, Princeton

    Google Scholar 

  • Archer J (1988) The behavioral biology of aggression. Cambridge University Press, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Archer J (1991) The influence of testosterone on human-aggression. Br J Psychol 82:1–28

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Archer J, Thanzami V (2007) The relation between physical aggression, size and strength, among a sample of young Indian men. Pers Individ Differ 43:627–633

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Archer J, Thanzami V (2009) The relation between mate value, entitlement, physical aggression, size and strength among a sample of young Indian men. Evol Hum Behav 30:315–321

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bassey EJ, Harries UJ (1993) Normal values for handgrip strength in 920 men and women aged over 65 years, and longitudinal changes over 4 years in 620 survivors. Clin Sci 84:331–337

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Baxendale PM, Reed MJ, James VHT (1980) Testosterone in saliva of normal men and its relationship with unbound and total testosterone levels in plasma. J Endocrinol 187:46–47

    Google Scholar 

  • Boersma P, Weenik D (2009) Praat: doing phonetics by computer (version 5.1.03)

  • Booth A, Johnson DR, Granger DA (1999) Testosterone and men's depression: the role of social behavior. J Health Soc Behav 40:130–140

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Burriss RP, Little AC (2006) Effects of partner conception risk phase on male perception of dominance in faces. Evol Hum Behav 27:297–305

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Buss AH, Perry M (1992) The aggression questionnaire. J Pers Soc Psychol 63:452–459

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Carre JM (2009) No place like home: testosterone responses to victory depend on game location. Am J Hum Biol 21:392–394

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Carre JM, Putnam SK, McCormick CM (2009) Testosterone responses to competition predict future aggressive behaviour at a cost to reward in men. Psychoneuroendocrinology 34:561–570

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Chagnon NA (1988) Life histories, blood revenge, and warfare in a tribal population. Science 239:985–992

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Clark AS, Henderson LP (2003) Behavioral and physiological responses to anabolic-androgenic steroids. Neurosci Biobehav Rev 27:413–436

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Darwin C (1871) The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. Murray, London

    Google Scholar 

  • DeBruine LM, Jones BC, Little AC, Boothroyd LG, Perrett DI, Penton-Voak IS, Cooper PA, Penke L, Feinberg DR, Tiddeman BP (2006) Correlated preferences for facial masculinity and ideal or actual partner's masculinity. Proc R Soc B: Biol Sci 273:1355–1360

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fairbanks G (1960) Voice and articulation drillbook, 2nd edn. Harper & Row, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Faurie C, Pontier D, Raymond M (2004) Student athletes claim to have more sexual partners than other students. Evol Hum Behav 25:1–8

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Feinberg DR, Jones BC, Little AC, Burt DM, Perrett DI (2005) Manipulations of fundamental and formant frequencies affect the attractiveness of human male voices. Anim Behav 69:561–568

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Feinberg DR, Jones BC, Law Smith MJ, Moore FR, DeBruine LM, Cornwell RE, Hillier SG, Perrett DI (2006) Menstrual cycle, trait estrogen level, and masculinity preferences in the human voice. Horm Behav 49:215–222

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Felson RB (1996) Big people hit little people: sex differences in physical power and interpersonal violence. Criminology 34:433–452

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fitch WT (1997) Vocal tract length and formant frequency dispersion correlate with body size in rhesus macaques. J Acoust Soc Am 102:1213–1222

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Fitch WT, Giedd J (1999) Morphology and development of the human vocal tract: a study using magnetic resonance imaging. J Acoust Soc Am 106:1511–1522

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Frost P (1994) Preference for darker faces in photographs at different plases of the menstrual cycle—preliminary assessment of evidence for a hormonal relationship. Percept Mot Skills 79:507–514

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Gallup AC, White DD, Gallup GG (2007) Handgrip strength predicts sexual behavior, body morphology, and aggression in male college students. Evol Hum Behav 28:423–429

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gangestad SW, Thornhill R (2008) Human oestrus. Proc R Soc B: Biol Sci 275:991–1000

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gangestad SW, Simpson JA, Cousins AJ, Garver-Apgar CE, Christensen PN (2004) Women's preferences for male behavioral displays change across the menstrual cycle. Psychol Sci 15:203–207

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Gonzalez J (2004) Formant frequencies and body size of speaker: a weak relationship in adult humans. J Voice 32:277–287

    Google Scholar 

  • Grammer K (1993) 5-alpha-androst-16en-3-alpha-on a male pheromone—a brief report. Ethol Sociobiol 14:201–207

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Harris JA (1999) Review and methodological considerations in research on testosterone and aggression. Aggress Violent Behav 4:272–291

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Howard DM, Murphy DT (2008) Voice science acoustics and recording. Plural Publishing, San Diego

    Google Scholar 

  • Johnston VS, Hagel R, Franklin M, Fink B, Grammer K (2001) Male facial attractiveness—evidence for hormone-mediated adaptive design. Evol Hum Behav 22:251–267

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jones BC, Feinberg DR, DeBruine LM, Little AC, Vukovic J (2010) A domain-specific opposite-sex bias in human preferences for manipulated voice pitch. Anim Behav 79:57–62

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Keverne EB, Leonard RA, Scruton DM, Young SK (1978) Visual monitoring in social groups of talapoin monkeys (Miopithecus talapoin). Anim Behav 26:933–944

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lassek WD, Gaulin SJC (2009) Costs and benefits of fat-free muscle mass in men: relationship to mating success, dietary requirements, and natural immunity. Evol Hum Behav 30:322–328

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lee S, Potamianos A, Narayanan S (1999) Acoustics of children's speech: developmental changes of temporal and spectral parameters. J Acoust Soc Am 105:1455–1468

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Little AC, Jones BC, Penton-Voak IS, Burt DM, Perrett DI (2002) Partnership status and the temporal context of relationships influence human female preferences for sexual dimorphism in male face shape. Proc R Soc B Biol Sci 269:1095–1100

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Little AC, Jones BC, Burriss RP (2007a) Preferences for masculinity in male bodies change across the menstrual cycle. Horm Behav 51:633–639

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Little AC, Jones BC, Burt DM, Perrett DI (2007b) Preferences for symmetry in faces change across the menstrual cycle. Biol Psychol 76:209–216

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Mazur A, Booth A (1998) Testosterone and dominance in men. Behav Brain Sci 21:353–363

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Moffat SD, Hampson E (1996) Salivary testosterone levels in left- and right-handed adults. Neuropsychologia 34:225–233

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Morton ES (1977) Occurrence and significance of motivation structural rules in some bird and mammal sounds. Am Nat 111:855–869

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mueller U, Mazur A (2001) Evidence of unconstrained directional selection for male tallness. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 50:302–311

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ohala JJ (1983) Cross-language use of pitch: an ethological view. Phonetica 40:1–18

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Ohala JJ (1984) An ethological perspective on common cross-language utilization of F0 of voice. Phonetica 41:1–16

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Penton-Voak IS, Perrett DI (2000) Female preference for male faces changes cyclically: Further evidence. Evol Hum Behav 21:39–48

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Penton-Voak IS, Perrett DI, Castles DL, Kobayashi T, Burt DM, Murray LK, Minamisawa R (1999) Menstrual cycle alters face preference. Nature 399:741–742

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Perusse D (1993) Cultural and reproductive success in industrial societies: testing the relationship at proximate and ultimate levels. Behav Brain Sci 16:239–242

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Provost MP, Kormos C, Kosakoski G, Quinsey VL (2006) Sociosexuality in women and preference for facial masculinization and somatotype in men. Arch Sex Behav 35:305–312

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Puts DA (2005) Mating context and menstrual phase affect women's preferences for male voice pitch. Evol Hum Behav 26:388–397

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Puts DA (2006) Cyclic variation in women's preferences for masculine traits: potential hormonal causes. Hum Nat 17:114–127

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Puts DA (2010) Beauty and the beast: Mechanisms of sexual selection in humans. Evol Hum Behav 31:157–175

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Puts DA, Gaulin SJC, Verdolini K (2006) Dominance and the evolution of sexual dimorphism in human voice pitch. Evol Hum Behav 27:283–296

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Puts DA, Hodges C, Cardenas RA, Gaulin SJC (2007) Men's voices as dominance signals: vocal fundamental and formant frequencies influence dominance attributions among men. Evol Hum Behav 28:340–344

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ramirez JM (2003) Hormones and aggression in childhood and adolescence. Aggress Violent Behav 8:621–644

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rantanen T, Masaki K, Foley D, Izmirlian G, White L, Guralnik JM (1998) Grip strength changes over 27 yr in Japanese-American men. J Appl Physiol 85:2047–2053

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Rendall D, Kollias S, Ney C, Lloyd P (2005) Pitch (F0) and formant profiles of human vowels and vowel-like baboon grunts: the role of vocalizer body size and voice-acoustic allometry. J Acoust Soc Am 117:944–955

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Roberts SC, Little AC, Lyndon A, Roberts J, Havlicek J, Wright RL (2009) Manipulation of body odour alters men's self-confidence and judgements of their visual attractiveness by women. Int J Cosmet Sci 31:47–54

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Sell A, Cosmides L, Tooby J, Sznycer D, von Rueden C, Gurven M (2009) Human adaptations for the visual assessment of strength and fighting ability from the body and face. Proc R Soc B: Biol Sci 276:575–584

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Simpson JA, Gangestad SW, Christensen PN, Leck K (1999) Fluctuating asymmetry, sociosexuality, and intrasexual competitive tactics. J Pers Soc Psychol 76:159–172

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Symons D (1995) Beauty is in the adaptations of the beholder: the evolutionary psychology of human female sexual attractiveness. In: Abramson PR, Pinkerton SD (eds) Sexual nature sexual culture. University of Chicago Press, Chicago

    Google Scholar 

  • Tibbetts EA, Mettler A, Levy S (2009) Mutual assessment via visual status signals in Polistes dominulus wasps. Biol Lett 6:10–13

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Titze IR (2000) Principles of voice production. National Center for Voice and Speech, Iowa City

    Google Scholar 

  • Tremblay RE, Schaal B, Boulerice B, Arseneault L, Soussignan RG, Paquette D, Laurent D (1998) Testosterone, physical aggression, dominance, and physical development in early adolescence. Int J Behav Dev 22:753–777

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tusing KJ, Dillard JP (2000) The sounds of dominance: vocal precursors of perceived dominance during interpersonal influence. Hum Commun Res 26:148–171

    Google Scholar 

  • Wang C, Plymate S, Nieschlag E, Paulsen CA (1981) Salivary testosterone in men: further evidence of a direct correlation with free serum testosterone. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 53:1021–1024

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Wilson WJ (1975) Social hierarchy and dominance—Schein, MW. J Biol Psychol 17:36–37

    Google Scholar 

  • Xue SA, Hao GJ (2003) Changes in the human vocal tract due to aging and the acoustic correlates of speech production: a pilot study. J Speech Lang Hear Res 46:689–701

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

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.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to David A. Puts.

Additional information

Communicated by T. Czeschlik

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Wolff, S.E., Puts, D.A. Vocal masculinity is a robust dominance signal in men. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 64, 1673–1683 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-010-0981-5

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-010-0981-5

Keywords

  • Dominance
  • Formant frequency
  • Fundamental frequency
  • Mating success
  • Sexual selection
  • Voice pitch