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What can you learn from the sound of someone's voice?

Voice a 'multidimensional fitness indicator'

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What can you learn from the sound of someone's voice?

Quite a bit it seems. There is considerable evidence that the sound of a person's voice reveals a great deal about the speaker.

Studies have shown that a listener who hears the voice of someone else can infer the speaker's social class, various personality traits, emotional and mental state, and attributes related to deception.

In research with experimental subjects who listen to voice samples from speakers, subjects are then just as capable of correctly estimating the height, weight, and age of those speakers with the same degree of accuracy as that achieved by examining photographs of those speakers. They both correctly estimate the height, weight, and age of speakers 75 per cent of the time.

This was the conclusion of a study by Dr Robert Krauss and colleagues from the Department of Psychology at Columbia University and published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology in 2002.

Research by Dr Susan Hughes and colleagues at the Department of Psychology at the State University of New York at Albany, found that individuals with a symmetrical (ie, an attractive) body were rated as having more attractive voices compared with individuals with a less symmetrical (ie, an unattractive) body. As deviation from a symmetrical body increases, the attractiveness of the voice decreases.

In an article published in Evoution and Human Behaviour in 2002 and another in 2004, the Hughes team concludes that the sound of a person's voice may serve as "an important multidimensional fitness indicator".

Voice may be an important factor in sexual attraction. Just as people are attracted to healthy bodies, they are attracted to healthy voices. Humans tend to desire fit mates. It is in their individual interest and in their species evolutionary interest to do so.

Stephen Juan, Ph.D. is an anthropologist at the University of Sydney. Email your Odd Body questions to s.juan@edfac.usyd.edu.au

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