Picture this scene: you sit in a dark bar, feet cold from the snow outside, warmed by slow sipping gin and tonic, listening forlornly to a group of women sing dusky arias. Suddenly a blonde woman of moderate physical looks comes to the stage and starts to sing. Her voice intoxicates you and for those few minutes, you fall madly in love. Something about her voice has captivated you. Seems reasonable enough right? I’ve spent a pretty good amount of time watching and listening to a number of singers performing in various groups: a capella, opera, choral, and others. I suspect anyone with similar experiences can also recall a time where they’ve fallen in love listening to someone sing. Voices can be powerfully alluring, and I’d never really stopped to question it or ask why until I recently stumbled across an study with some interesting insight into the matter. The study is enthrallingly titled: Ratings of voice attractiveness predict sexual behavior and body configuration (click title for full text). Before we get too far into it though, let’s do a brief overview of a concept you’ll need:
WHR and SHR: Waist-to-hip ratio and shoulder-to-hip ratio are cross-cultural indicators of sexual attractiveness in humans; with smaller WHR in women being more attractive, and larger SHR in men being the same.
The study mentioned above is quite simple in practice. Researchers recorded the voices of 76 females and 70 males (excluding ones who may have damaged their voices from external events such as smoking and clear outliers such as people with accents). The participants were recorded counting from 1 to 10. Participants were then asked to listen to recordings from others and rank them from 1 to 5 (1=very unattractive and 5=very attractive). Each voice was rated 12+-2 times and had approximately the same number of male and female reviewers. People tended to rate voices as similar.
The second part of the experiment was gathering additional data from participants. Each was measured at the shoulders, waist, and hips and their BMI* as well as height and weight were recorded. Roughly half the participants also completed an anonymous questionnaire about their sexual history, including such things as number of sexual partners, number of extra-pair copulation partners (sleeping with someone who’s not your partner), and age of first sexual intercourse, among others.
* As a side note, BMI sucks as a measurement. Healthy, well muscled individuals will often show up as overweight or obese, whereas a someone who is skinny fat could likely be marked as normal, despite being quite unhealthy. For example, at 5’11” and 175lbs, I’m borderline overweight, despite having around 10% body fat and the ability to deadlift 2x my bodyweight. Oh, hey look, a quick google search turned up an article from NPR entitled “Top 10 Reasons Why The BMI Is Bogus” which explains this.
Results and Conclusions:
This study produced a number of interesting results:
Voice and physical characteristics:
- Men with larger shoulders and smaller waists (higher SHR) were more likely have voices rated as attractive by women and men to a lesser degree.
- Women with smaller waists and larger hips (lower WHR) were more likely to have voices rated attractive by men.
- BMI seemed to have no relationship between vocal attractiveness.
Physical characteristics and sexual behaviors:
- Higher SHR is men were correlated with having sex at younger ages, as well as having had more sexual partners, more EPC and more sexual partners who were in other relationships.
- Lower WHR in women was correlated with younger age of first sexual intercourse as well as a higher number of sexual partners, EPC partners and partners in other relationships.
Voice and sexual behaviors:
- Men and women with more attractive voices had sex at younger ages, more sexual partners, EPC and sex with people in other relationships.
The data establishes correlations between physical attractiveness, vocal attractiveness, and sexual behaviors, noting that both physical and vocal attractiveness seems to lead to increased sexual activity. Researchers also offer a potential explanation for the link between physical and vocal characteristics in the form of hormones; noting that sex hormones influence both the emergence of physical sex differences as well as vocal structure during adolescence.
Regardless of the device by which this occurs, we can extrapolate some interesting conclusions about vocal attraction and the link between physical and vocal attraction. Other studies have show that physical attractiveness (as measured by SHR and WHR) are good indicators of health and reproductive status. We can therefore assume that there is likely a correlation between these factors and vocal attraction as well. Authors of this study suggest that because of the high degree of accuracy in predicting health from vocal attractiveness, it may well have been an important part of mate selection throughout our evolution.
What about singers?
Then what about my claim that singing can get you laid? Well, singers which people find more vocally attractive are going to be most likely also more physically attractive, and regardless, vocal attraction also predicts increased sexual activity. As this study indicates, those with more attractive voices tended to have more sexual partners. The act of singing in performance also affords singers a unique opportunity to display the attractiveness of their voices, much as a sport competition allows athletes to exhibit beneficial physical traits.
Learning how to sing is a process of training the voice to sound more attractive. While there are certainly examples of bad singers who have been successful (like Bob Dylan or the guy from Audioslave), most singers strive for success (at least in part) by sounding attractive to listeners. (I should note here that I am blending the concepts of vocal attraction with vocal pleasantness, but I feel that the two are very similar if not the same.)
In a sense, training the voice to be more pleasant (attractive) is a bit like training the body to be more physically attractive. Sexual indicators such as SHR and WHR can be affected by diet and exercise to some degree, and there’s no reason why vocal attraction cannot be trained as well. Certainly not everyone would be able to move from a 1 to a 5 on the scale, but 1 to 3 or 4 to 5 is certainly not out of the question. Imagine a soft-spoken man being coached by a friend to speak more loudly in a bar. This will increase the attractiveness of his voice by making it sound fuller and more confident (words we would use to describe an attractive voice). He has not changed his fundamental vocal devices, but has improved his use of them.
Through both technical and physical training and performance opportunities singers are inadvertently (or perhaps intentionally) going to make themselves more attractive to members of the opposite sex. This will in turn likely improve their chances for sexual encounters.