Male voice pitch mediates the relationship between objective and perceived formidability

Toe Aung, Kevin A. Rosenfield, David Puts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Acoustic signals function in intrasexual mating competition in a wide variety of species, including humans. The low voice pitch of human males has been proposed to represent an honest signal of formidability. Although voice pitch in men affects perceptions of size and dominance, it is relatively weakly associated with objective measures of formidability such as body size and strength. As a result, some authors have argued that low male voice pitch is not a valid signal of formidability but is deceptive and salient only because it hijacks a tendency to perceive lower frequency sounds as emanating from larger sources. In this paper, we consider theoretical and empirical issues associated with this perceptual exploitation hypothesis and ask whether male voice pitch transmits information about formidability. We utilize mediation models to investigate whether male voice pitch is an honest signal of formidability in data collected from university students in the U.S. (n = 231 male speakers, 565 male raters) and Canada (n = 74 male speakers, 108 female raters, 65 male raters). In both data sets, male voice pitch mediated the relationship between objective (measured by height) and perceived formidability. Collectively, these results indicate that men's voice pitch transmits information about formidability from signaler to receiver.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)121-129
Number of pages9
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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