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Voice Is Key in Sexual Attraction

Study Shows Men and Women Use Lower-Pitched Voice to Indicate Sexual Attraction

By Katrina Woznicki
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Laura J. Martin, MD

May 26, 2010 -- How can you tell if someone is attracted to you? A new study suggests lowering your voice can communicate sexual desire.

While a great deal of sexual attraction may revolve around the visual, evidence suggests sounds are just as important. Voices can communicate a great deal of social and biological information that can either be a turn-on or a turnoff, say researchers led by Susan Hughes, an assistant professor of psychology at Albright College in Reading, Pa.

Hughes and her team studied the behaviors of 45 college students at Albright -- 20 men and 25 women. Seventy-nine percent of the group were white, 12.5% were African-American, 6.3% were Asian, and 2.1% were Hispanic; their average age was 21.6.

The students conducted phone surveys using Skype and their voices were recorded and analyzed. They called and left prepared voice messages while viewing frontal face images obtained from the Internet of fictitious individuals who "received" their messages. The fictitious individuals varied in attractiveness.

"We found that both sexes used a lower-pitch voice and showed a higher level of physiological arousal when speaking to a more attractive opposite-sex target," Hughes says in a news release.

Although Hughes and her team expected women would raise the pitch of their voices to sound more feminine, the opposite turned out to be true.

"There appears to be a common stereotype in our culture that deems a sexy female voice as one that sounds husky, breathy, and lower-pitched," she says."This suggests that the motivation to display a sexy/seductive female voice may conflict with the motivation to sound more feminine."

The findings will be published this fall in the Journal of Nonverbal Behavior.

Lowering one's voice to indicate attraction may be a learned behavior derived from cultural stereotypes that are perpetuated throughout the media, the researchers say. "When a woman naturally lowers her voice, it may be perceived as her attempt to sound more seductive or attractive, and therefore serves as a signal of her romantic interest," Hughes says.

There is a great deal of evidence suggesting that individuals manipulate their voices when speaking to different people and in different situations. For example, Hughes and her team write in the study that "women's voices sound more competent when speaking to their bosses rather than to their subordinates or peers, whereas men's voices sound more competent when speaking to their peers. Individuals also tend to raise the pitch of their voice when attempting to deceive another person."

SOURCES: News release, Dick Jones Communications.

Hughes, S. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, published online April 11, 2010.

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