Can Your Voice Make You Sexier?

Do you have the world’s sexiest accent?

Nothing can make use jump to a conclusion about someone like hearing them speak. It affects almost every sphere of modern life. We choose our friends based on their accents, we choose out partners based on their accents, we even choose our politicians based on their accents. Why? Well, it turns out that the tone of voice we use can communicate a lot more information about us than we realize.

So, beyond the linguistic message you can share with your interlocutors, a lot of information that concerns your biological status, but also your social status or your occupation, your social economical status, your mental health, for example, or your health in general. All these kinds of information are driven through voice quality. There are a lot of very subtle differences in people’s voices, which enables you very quickly – it’s one tenth of a second and you can have an impression of the person you’re talking to. – Melissa Barkat-Defradas (Linguistics Researcher, University of Montpellier).

But what quality is an accent are we actually picking up on? What makes someone sound electable, for example? Well. election results speak for themselves: More often than not, it is deeper-voiced candidates that win greater shares of the vote. People with deeper voices are also seen as more hireable, competent and trustworthy. Interestingly, our accent also changes depending on the environment we find ourselves in. We tend to mimic each other in social situations, and we choose friends who have accents similar to our own.

different accents

In general interactions there is a common phenomenon, that we start to pick up on the sound, the way that the other person is speaking. Including how quickly we speak, so if the other person is speaking slowly, we tend to slow down. And we also mimic somewhat the pitch, within obviously biological restrictions – when it comes to the opposite sex. It’s thought to be an in-group, sort of a bonding mechanism. – Katarzyna Pisanski (Bioacoustician, University of Lyon)

So what about romantic attraction? Is there anything to the idea that some accents are just sexier? It was thought, for a long time, that what makes deep-voiced politicians electable also makes men attractive.

attraction based on accent

The level of testosterone in males which is inversely correlated to the vocal height. It means that the lover is your voice the higher is your level in testosterone, and we know of course that, in biology, that testosterone gives a lot of advantages to males, as far as their reproductive success is concerned. The lower the voice, the more sexual partners a man can get, and the more children a man has when his voice is very low. So, through his vocal height, a man is able to give some information to a potential sexual partner about his own quality, biological quality. Is means that this guy has a very good immune system, he is more aggressive and more dominant, and he is more likely to be leader. – Melissa Barkat-Defradas (Linguistics Researcher, University of Montpellier)

vocal height vs testosterone

Evolutionary biologists use this reasoning to justify why modern women still find deep-voiced men more attractive. We still have a predisposition for those traits. But can this evolutionary logic be applied to what makes women’s voices more attractive?

what makes women's voices more attractive

In the history of studying female voices and attraction, research from all around the world seems to suggest that women with higher pitched voices – are more romantically successful. It’s true that younger women have higher pitch voices, so this may give cues to their age, and therefore how reproductively desirable they are. This conclusion has been repeated in some speed dating studies, where women were observed to raise that pitch of their voice while on dates. In the last few years, some researchers has suggested that this might be changing that women might actually lower their voices when speaking to an attractive man.

dating and voice pitch

We set people up in a real speed dating situation. They spoke to each person for six minutes and then moved on. And what they do is they have a little card where, at the end, they can click whether they like the person or note. And so, with those data, we had a voice recordings of each person from each date, because each person was wearing a microphone, and we also had their preferences, and so we could essentially look at compared to the baseline of that person’s typical voice, do they raise or lower their voice pitch, for example when they’re speaking to somebody who they fancy? And what we found was that actually women tended to lover their voice pitch to men that they ticked as a ‘yes’, men that they preferred, specially if those men were preferred by other women. And so it’s quite possible that there are communicating maturity and competence in that, in that context. And men actually also showed a preference for women who spoke in the lower voice pitch. – Katarzyna Pisanski (Bioacoustician, University of Lyon)

dating based on accent

This one study looked at French students, which until it is replicated elsewhere might mean deep-voiced French women were a particular preference of French men.

French accent

We, for a long time, got focused on the universals and it’s very innovative to be interested in the cultural specificities and typically our findings on French males evaluating or judging females voices was kind of new because we didn’t find the same results in any other language or any other culture. – Melissa Barkat-Defradas (Linguistics Researcher, University of Montpellier)

So maybe our tastes are changing, and reflect our genetic preferences less and less. Or, maybe, the French just know how to sound sexy in a way the rest of us could never pull off.