Ever noticed that your best friend sounds just like you?
We prefer voices that are similar to our own because they convey a soothing sense of community and social belongingness, a new study has found.
While previous research has suggested that we are drawn to voices that sound like they are coming from smaller women or bigger men, the new study identifies a variety of other acoustic signals that humans find appealing.
“The voice is an amazingly flexible tool that we use to construct our identity,” said lead author Molly Babel, a professor in the Department of Linguistics at the University of British Columbia in Canada.
“Very few things in our voices are immutable, so we felt that our preferences had to be about more than a person’s shape and size,” Babel said.
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In the study, researchers found a preference for “larger” sounding male voices, a finding that supports previous research.
For females, there was also a strong preference for breathier voices – a la Marilyn Monroe – as opposed to the creakier voices of the Kardashians or actress Ellen Page, researchers said.
The allure of breathiness – which typically results from younger and thinner vocal cords – relates to our cultural obsession with youthfulness and health, they said.
Babel said the findings indicate that our preference for voices aren’t all about body size and finding a mate, it is also about fitting in to our social groups.
Babel and her colleagues at the University of California, Santa Cruz asked college-aged participants in California to rate the attractiveness of male and female voices from people living west of the Mississippi River.
They found that participants preferred different acoustic signals for males and females – and the strongest predictors of voice preference are specific to the community that you’re a part of.
For example, the Californian participants had a strong preference for female voices that pronounced the “oo” vowel sound from a word like “goose” further forward in the mouth.
This has been a characteristic of California speech since at least the early 1980’s. In many other regions of North America, people would pronounce the “oo” sound farther back in the mouth.
The preference for males who had shorter average word length relates to a difference between how men and women speak.
In North American English, longer average word length is a style typically used by women while shorter average word length is one used by men, researchers said. The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE.