Wednesday, April 18, 2012

People prefer male politicians with lower voices

Here's a new study from Evolution and Human Behavior:
It may be adaptive for voters to recognize good leadership qualities among politicians. Men with lower-pitched voices are found to be more dominant and attractive than are men with higher-pitched voices. Candidate attractiveness and vocal quality relate to voting behavior, but no study has tested the influence of voice pitch on voting-related perceptions. We tested whether voice pitch influenced perceptions of politicians and how these perceptions related to voting behavior. In Study 1, we manipulated voice pitch of recordings of US presidents and asked participants to attribute personality traits to the voices and to choose the voice they preferred to vote for. We found that lower-pitched voices were associated with favorable personality traits more often than were higher-pitched voices and that people preferred to vote for politicians with lower-pitched rather than higher-pitched voices. Furthermore, lower voice pitch was more strongly associated with physical prowess than with integrity in a wartime voting scenario. Thus, sensitivity to vocal cues to dominance was heightened during wartime. In Study 2, we found that participants preferred to vote for the candidate with the lower-pitched voice when given the choice between two unfamiliar men's voices speaking a neutral sentence. Taken together, our results suggest that candidates' voice pitch has an important influence on voting behavior and that men with lower-pitched voices may have an advantage in political elections.

I remember being annoyed in 2008 with McCain's Bruce Dern-like voice. Romney and Cain had the best voices during the recent primaries. Romney might have a slight advantage over Obama. Cain and Obama are definitely better singers.


  1. Anonymous7:38 PM

    I like Romney's voice when he speaks slowly. When he speeds up, the tonal quality changes.

    I have never understood why people think Obama gives a great speech. His voice is fine, but his intonation patterns is soooo repetitive I get lulled to sleep.

    Of course, no politician should speak long.

  2. There was a time when the BBC wouldn't hire women broadcaster because of their higher voices. Then later they only hired women with lower voices. The Julie London effect.

    It used to be that only men with rich deep voices were radio commentators. Rush Limbaugh for example is a vocal star. He has a good mellow baritone and an uncanny ability to mimic the voices of others. This in stark contrast with Mark Levin who sounds like a cornered chipmunk. His critics refer to his "girly" voice. Personally I can't bear to listen to Levin.

    The most authoritative voice used to be James Earl Jones with his Darth Vader and CNN gigs. Now it's probably Dennis Haysbert and his insurance commercials. Both of these men are large African-Americans.

    Voice pitch is determined by several factors principally the length of the vocal cords and partially their thickness. Basses are bigger than tenors. Mario Del Monaco (famous tenor) was about five six. Martti Talvela (famous bass) was about six eight. Joan Sutherland was frustrated by how short all her tenor colleagues were. She sought and found a "tall tenor". That was Luciano Pavarotti who at five nine was tall for a tenor.

    The male voice takes a precipitous drop in pitch when the testosterone hits in the teenage years. A low pitched voice is a sign of higher testosterone levels (maybe). Black men may have lower voices because of their higher testosterone levels (big maybe).

    So boys announce that they are men with the hair on their faces and the pitch of their voices.

    Oddly enough in opera as well as doo-wop the lead male singer will almost always be a tenor. Aside from Tennessee Ernie Ford pop music almost never has a lead bass singer. I should say a bass who sings with his natural voice. Bing Crosby was a bass or bass-baritone who sang at first at the very top of his vocal range. Listen to his early recording of "I'm Going Hollywood". He wants to sound young so he sings as if he were a tenor.

    So when men sing they need to be a tenor but when they speak, basses are preferred.

  3. Anonymous11:20 AM

    I've known plenty of black men and never noticed that they have lower voices.

    I guess some myths are too good to need verification.

  4. it might not be a myth that black men have lower voices on average.

    "Significant gender and race main effects were found in certain vocal tract dimensions and formant frequencies of certain vowels and continuous speech."

    this study doesn't examine pitch directly, but it does show that there are racial differences in vocal tract dimensions, which suggests a pitch difference would be found as well.

  5. Anonymous11:38 AM

    Pat, Limbaugh does NOT have a baritone. He can and does, on occasion, when he is camping it up, deepen his voice, but no, it's not a baritone.

    James Earl Jones does have a baritone.

    I agree that Levine is hard to listen do, but I often do anyway. It's a nasal voice.

    Another voice that takes getting used to is that of radio host John Bachelor. First time I heard it I thought he was making fun of how the most flamboyant gay males talk. I looked him up. He has kids, and I believe he is married, but wow, does he ever sound gay.

    Nonetheless, his is a quality broadcast that I catch (at least parts of it) at least once a week.

  6. Anonymous2:56 PM

    Interesting study.

    Though it seems to indicate that Chinese males have (or should have) the most "masculine" vocal characteristics, followed by whites, and then blacks.

    Have a look at Figure 5, and keep in mind that greater oral, pharyngeal, and vocal tract volume is found in males when compared to females.

  7. Harold3:29 AM

    Some discussion regarding black vs. white voice depth at racehist:

  8. Limbaugh does NOT have a baritone. He can and does, on occasion, when he is camping it up, deepen his voice, but no, it's not a baritone.

    James Earl Jones does have a baritone.

    This is a very strange rebuttal. And dead wrong.

    In choral music males voices are divided in fours (first tenors, second tenors, first basses and second basses). In opera male voices are usually divided in threes (tenors, baritones, and basses). Vocal pitch is a physical characteristic like height or shoe size. As such it is normally distributed meanning that most will be in the middle. In our case we expect most men to be about 5'9" or 5'10" and to be a baritone.

    Men with high voices (like Levin)are called tenors. Men with low voices (like James Earl Jones) are called basses and men with normal voices (like Limbaugh) are called baritones.

    In the seventeeth and eighteeth century the classifications were a little different, but vocal terms have been stable now for almost two centuries.

    BTW I'm not normal. I'm 6'4". I wear a size 15 shoe. And I'm a bass.

    20 second example

  9. Anonymous1:30 PM

    The most authoritative voice used to be James Earl Jones with his Darth Vader and CNN gigs. Now it's probably Dennis Haysbert and his insurance commercials. Both of these men are large African-Americans.

    The highly distorted view which most Americans have of blacks (and black males in particular) is probably due to the mass media editing reality in a particular direction.

  10. The highly distorted view which most Americans have of blacks (and black males in particular) is probably due to the mass media editing reality in a particular direction.

    That's true about many things but not vocal range. Blacks are one of the big races and big men have lower voices. I'm about the same size as Haysbert. I am not offended because he has a low voice.

    I was however bothered that he was portrayed as as the uber-virtuous President in "24". And even more bothered that his white successor as President was shown as a scummy and unscrupulous villain. Real subtle political message there.

    I don't care much for God being played by Morgan Freeman either. But the worst offense is probably in "2012" which shows the black
    Chiwetel Ejiofor as the only moral and decent person in the whole cast. He keeps batting his big wet eyes as he lectures the white people on decency.

    As it happens I used to supervise two black programmers. So I'm always amused that in the movies the computer programmers are always black. I inherited those two black guys and I fired both of them. Trust me on this. There are brilliant Chinese, Indian and Russian programmers. But not blacks.

  11. Sideways8:18 AM

    " James Earl Jones does have a baritone"

    Jebus. JEJ is a basso profundo, the lowest of the low. Where do you people come from?

    I've long felt that part of the problem people had with Palin was her high-pitched voice.

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