Friends of the Nonverbal Communication Blog, this week we present the paper “Hong Kong women project a larger body when speaking to attractive men”, by Lee, A. and Ng, E. (2022), in which authors carry out a small experiment to know whether heterosexual women make changes in their voices when they’re speaking to men they find attractive.
Does having a beautiful voice bring us social benefits? According to some studies, it seems so. Listeners tend to associate it with an attractive face, a nice personality, and even good health.
In addition, perceiving a person as attractive and more likeable leads to advantages in dating, job applications, promotions at work, public elections, more social support…
However, although physical appearance cannot be easily altered, the voice can be modulated and thereby it is possible to influence the perception that others have of our appearance.
So how to get this? What are the voice modulation tendencies to influence our physical attractiveness?
There are two apparently conflicting hypotheses that seek to explain the phonetics of an attractive voice. They are the average hypothesis and the body size projection.
The first hypothesis defends the phenomenon of average attractiveness, arguing that voices similar to the media in the population are considered more attractive.
From an evolutionary point of view, the average voice may indicate good genes as it has resisted adaptive changes and has become the norm, producing an effect similar to that of average faces, which seem to suggest good physical condition and health.
On the other hand, the body size projection hypothesis holds that animals use their voice to project different body sizes and fulfill certain communicative functions.
Extending this idea to humans, one study found that an attractive male English voice to heterosexual female listeners was one that sounded like it came from a large and tall person, while the opposite was true for a female voice and heterosexual male listeners.
In general, it seems that an attractive voice is one that resembles the average of the population, with certain projected body sizes that add enhancement effects, but without deviating from the average.
It has been seen, however, that American female speakers are increasingly using a certain screeching tone in their voices. This seems to deviate from the projection principle of body size, as this feature is considered to belong to a large body because of its loudness. There is also evidence that the use of a scratchy voice by American women is considered less attractive than a normal voice.
Thus, it appears that not all changes in vocal strategies align with what the opposite sex finds attractive.
Other studies conducted with non-Western populations found that while the general principles of average voice and body size projection can be stabilized, there are certain specific deviations depending on the language in which it is spoken. For example, in Japanese and Mandarin, the projection of a very large body size would not be attractive to either men or women.
Building on these insights and studies, authors investigate vocal changes in heterosexual women when they are talking to a man they find attractive, in the context of Cantonese speech.
A total of 19 women participated in the study. They first saw some photographs of men and had to say which ones they found attractive, on a scale of 1 to 10. Based on the previous ratings, they were presented with images of the most attractive men on the one hand, and also the least attractive, and a role-playing game was proposed to women: they had to pretend they and the attractive man were university classmates, and had to ask them a spoken question, which would later be analyzed.
Even with cross-linguistic variations, authors expected that Cantonese women would use at least some cues that projected small body size. Unexpectedly, the participants seemed to be trying to project a big-sounding voice when they spoke with an attractive face.
This may be because they were deliberately trying to sound less nervous or anxious around an attractive potential partner. However, this idea should be interpreted with caution.
Future studies should analyze other factors, authors suggest investigating whether the menstrual cycle has any influence and also increasing the number of study subjects.
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