Vocal masculinity is a robust dominance signal in men

Sarah E. Wolff, David Andrew Puts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

90 Scopus citations


Dominance assessment is important in mating competition across a variety of species, but little is known about how individuals' own quality affects their assessment of potential rivals. We conducted two studies to test whether men's own dominance affects their attentiveness to a putative dominance signal, vocal masculinity, when assessing competitors. Study I examined dominance ratings made by men in relation to their self-rated physical dominance. Study II examined dominance ratings made by men in relation to objective measures of their physical dominance, including size, strength, testosterone, and physical aggressiveness. Vocal masculinity strongly affected dominance ratings, but a man's own dominance did not alter his attention to vocal masculinity when assessing dominance. However, men who rated themselves high on physical dominance rated the voices of other men lower on dominance and reported more sex partners (study I). Men with intermediate testosterone concentrations rated the voices of other men lower on dominance (study II). These results confirm the effect of vocal masculinity on dominance perceptions, provide further evidence that dominance is relevant to mating success, and shed new light on how men assess the dominance of rivals and potential allies. Our results suggest that attention to dominance signals may depend less on the observer's own dominance in species with coalitional aggression, where individuals must assess others not only in relation to themselves but also in relation to each other. Among men, the effect of a deep, masculine voice on perceptions of dominance appears to be robust and unmediated by the formidability of the listener.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1673-1683
Number of pages11
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 18 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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