Vocal Pitch and Dominance

by F.

It seems that men share many characteristics of dogs—dominance hierarchies, humping your leg, and sniffing certain bodily areas. To this litany, add another charming attribute.

As mentioned in LiveScience,“a male dog will whine and beg in deference to a stronger dog, but will lower its voice into a guttural growl if it thinks it has a fighting chance.” Men do something similar, according to Puts et al:

Results indicate that (1) a masculine, low-pitch voice increases ratings of men’s physical and social dominance, augmenting the former more than the latter; and (2) men who believe they are physically dominant to their competitor lower their voice pitch when addressing him, whereas men who believe they are less dominant raise it.

A useful tip for your next meeting. There’s an important caveat, however:

Puts and his team think lower vocal pitch signals physical dominance more than it does social dominance, which in modern humans is typically achieved through skillful leadership and persuasion, not strength.

“Social dominance has to do with things like intelligence and social skills, which aren’t necessarily related to body size or testosterone,” Puts explained. “Ancestrally, if pitch was related to dominance, it was first related to physical dominance before anything else.”

I’m not sure this should give much comfort to the contraltos among us, but you never know.

Cite: Puts, D. A., Gaulin, S. J. C., and Verdolini, K. (2006). Dominance and the evolution of sexual dimorphism in human voice pitch. Evolution and Human Behavior, July 2006.

Hat Tip: Omni Brain.