Masculine voices signal men's threat potential in forager and industrial societies

David A. Puts, Coren L. Apicella, Rodrigo A. Cárdenas


Humans and many non-human primates exhibit large sexual dimorphisms in vocalizations and vocal anatomy. In humans, same-sex competitors and potential mates attend to acoustic features of male vocalizations, but vocal masculinity especially increases perceptions of physical prowess. Yet, the information content of male vocalizations remains obscure. We therefore examined relationships between sexually dimorphic acoustic properties and men's threat potential. We first introduce a new measure of the structure of vocal formant frequencies, ‘formant position’ (Pf), which we show is more sexually dimorphic and more strongly related to height than is the most widely used measure of formant structure, ‘formant dispersion’, in both a US sample and a sample of Hadza foragers from Tanzania. We also show large sexual dimorphisms in the mean fundamental frequency (F0) and the within-utterance standard deviation in F0 (F0 − s.d.) in both samples. We then explore relationships between these acoustic parameters and men's body size, strength, testosterone and physical aggressiveness. Each acoustic parameter was related to at least one measure of male threat potential. The most dimorphic parameters, F0 and Pf, were most strongly related to body size in both samples. In the US sample, F0 predicted testosterone levels, Pf predicted upper body strength and F0 − s.d. predicted physical aggressiveness.

  • Received April 19, 2011.
  • Accepted June 22, 2011.
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