Speaking At The Preferred Frequency

Once again the pitch of peoples voices is the subject of a research project. This time the pitch has been progressively manipulated over a wide range to see how people respond. Previous work has already established how the pitch of a voice is perceived in terms of authority – a lower pitch carries more weight than a higher pitch, but what do we find attractive?

Re at al from McMaster U have decided to let us in on their results from a study with 10 male and 9 female students (1). The students listened to the pronunciation of simple vowels sounds that were electronically manipulated over 2 Hz steps from very low pitches to very high pitches. The full human range was investigated.

But what question was asked? What did their 19 human lab rats prefer for male and female voices. Note: the men weren’t asked to rate the men’s voices and the women didn’t have to worry about the women’s voices. The choice was the preferred pitch of the opposite sex.

The results? The men preferred women’s voices at the high end of the pitch range. Now, for the women the preferred frequency for men’s voices was a low frequency, but not too low, certainly not at the extreme.

I’m left wondering what this means. Does an extremely low male voice sound too authoritative for a rebellious student? Maybe. And why would the guys prefer an extremely high-pitched women’s voice? What’s happened to the attraction of the husky woman’s voice whispering in the ear? Are the winters in Ontario to cold to think of such things? I doubt it. There must be some other explanation at work for such an odd result.

  1. http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0032719

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