Turns out size does matter when women are choosing a mate — at least when it comes to vocal chords.
A study from McMaster University found women were more attracted to men with low-pitched voices, which are produced by larger vocal chords. However, the research also showed women believed men with deeper voices were more likely to cheat.
"This was a problem for us. We wanted to figure out why women would be attracted to a man that they think is not going to be good to them in a relationship," said Jillian O’Connor, the lead author of the study. "Maybe one of the explanations could be [that] it depends on what kind of relationship these women are after."
To find out, O'Connor and her colleagues recorded some male voices and manipulated them electronically to sound higher or lower in pitch. They then had women listen to the voices and choose which ones they thought belonged to men likely to cheat on them and which voices they found more attractive for a short-term or a long-term relationship.
The results showed women preferred men with lower-pitched voices overall, but ranked low-pitched voices as belonging to men more likely to cheat. In those cases, they'd prefer the low-toned voices for a short-term relationship over a long-term commitment.
"They're attracted to these men in a situation where maybe they wouldn't expect fidelity," O'Connor explained.
Low voice, low scruples?
But are the men with low-pitched voices actually more likely to cheat than their higher-pitched counterparts? O'Connor said it could be, but it hasn't been proven.
"Men with lower-pitched voices have higher levels of testosterone and men who have higher levels of testosterone may be more likely to cheat when they're in a relationship. They're generally less committed," she said.
"It's kind of like a rule of thumb; more often than not it might be right, but it's not going to be 100 per cent accurate."
It's not the first study to emphasize how our voices affect the way others perceive us. A McMaster study last year showed voters favoured political candidates with deeper voices and found them to be more dominant and trustworthy.
O'Connor, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour at McMaster, said she's always fascinated by the influence voice has on perception. Next she'd like to look at whether men with low-pitched voices really are more likely to cheat as well as how men perceive women's voices, especially since they seem to fall under the same spell of cheaters as women do.
"We know that men perceive higher-pitched women's voices as being more likely to cheat but they also like higher-pitched women's voices. We're not quite sure how those two perceptions are meshing together yet."
Try it out
We wanted to see how you perceive low voices, and give you the chance to rate them. Take this test. While O'Connor's voice samples only spoke vowel sounds — to emphasize pitch and minimize verbal influence on the women — we thought we'd try something more commonly heard in the dating scene: a pick-up line. One of our intrepid reporters recorded the line in his regular speaking voice, then we altered the pitch up and down as close to the experiment guidelines as possible.
Listen to each version at the top of the page and then vote for which voice you find more attractive.