Looking for an easy way to improve your social standing, or even increase your chances of a long-term relationship? Well, a new study suggests that *ahem* lowering the pitch of your voice may well do the trick.
"Vocal communication is one of the most important human characteristics, and pitch is the most perceptually noticeable aspect of voice," said David Puts, study co-author and professor of anthropology at Penn State, in a statement.
"Understanding how voice pitch influences social perceptions can help us understand social relationships more broadly, how we attain social status, how we evaluate others on social status and how we choose mates."
To find out more, Puts and colleagues recruited 3,173 participants from 22 countries and asked them to listen to some carefully selected pairs of voice recordings. These clips featured either male or female voices at different pitches, repeating the same sentence.
Participating men then had to pick which voice in each male pair they thought sounded more prestigious – they sounded more respected, successful, or talented – and which sounded more likely to win in a fight. They also had to pick which female voice sounded more attractive, for either a short-term relationship or a long-term one.
Women were also asked the above relationship question, but applied to male voices instead. For female voices, they had to indicate which of the pair they considered to sound more attractive, and which sounded more flirtatious.
The results revealed that vocal pitch did indeed appear to have an effect on social perception. Males with lower voices were seen by other men as more formidable and prestigious. Interestingly, this had a larger impact in places with more violence and where people were more likely to interact with strangers, known as high “relational mobility”.
"The findings suggest that deep voices evolved in males because our male ancestors frequently interacted with competitors who were strangers, and they show how we can use evolutionary thinking and research from nonhuman animals to predict and understand how our psychology and behaviors vary across social contexts, including cross-culturally," explained Puts.
"Male traits such as deep voices and beards are highly socially salient, but this new research shows that the salience of at least one of these traits varies in predictable ways across societies, and it suggests that others, such as beards, do too."
The researchers also discovered that both men and women found lower-pitched voices more attractive when it came to long-term relationships, whilst higher-pitched female voices were found more attractive for short-term flings by men and more flirtatious by women.
"Female secondary sex traits, like voice, look like they're much better designed for mate attraction rather than threatening each other physically," said Puts.
Overall, the researchers believe the study demonstrates that vocal pitch is relevant to the way people are perceived socially, even across different societies. However, according to Puts, it also shows “that the extent of our attention to voice pitch when making social attributions is variable across societies and responsive to relevant sociocultural variables.”
So next time you’ve got a big interview coming up, you’re about to join a new club, or you’re considering sending your latest Tinder match a voice note, maybe try lowering your voice and see what happens.
The study is published in the journal Psychological Science.