Adaptations in Humans for Assessing Physical Strength from the Voice




Recent research has shown that humans, like many other animals, have a specialization for assessing fighting ability from visual cues. Because it is probable that the voice contains cues of strength and formidability that are not available visually, we predicted that selection has also equipped humans with the ability to estimate physical strength from the voice. We found that subjects accurately assessed upper-body strength in voices taken from eight samples across four distinct populations and language groups: the Tsimane of Bolivia, Andean herder-horticulturalists and United States and Romanian college students. Regardless of whether raters were told to assess height, weight, strength or fighting ability, they produced similar ratings that tracked upper-body strength independent of height and weight. Male voices were more accurately assessed than female voices, which is consistent with ethnographic data showing a greater tendency among males to engage in violent aggression. Raters extracted information about strength from the voice that was not supplied from visual cues, and were accurate with both familiar and unfamiliar languages. These results provide, to our knowledge, the first direct evidence that both men and women can accurately assess men’s physical strength from the voice, and suggest that estimates of strength are used to assess fighting ability.

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Refer to Dr. Christopher von Rueden's website for further information.

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Copyright © 2010 The Royal Society. This article first appeared in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 277:1699 (2010), 3509-3518.

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