Health & Wellness

Your voice tells strangers about your appearance, study suggests

The phone rings. When you answer it, a man with a deep voice begins to speak. Immediately you picture him as tall and ruggedly handsome.

But there's no way you're picturing the caller accurately, right?

Angeliki Jackson / TODAY
research study finds that people can tell if another person is tall, manly, feminine, healthy, based on the sound of his/her voice

Actually, arecent study had found that people can predict how others look simply by hearing their voices.

“People make similar judgments of strangers regardless of whether they just see their face, or hear their voice," says the study's author Harriet Smith, a doctoral student in psychology at Nottingham Trent University in England.

"There is enough overlapping information that they can match strangers' faces and voices with relative accuracy."

Smith asked 47 participants to look at 18 pictures and later listen to 18 voices. In each case, people ranked each person's health, masculinity, femininity and height based on their faces or voices. The results? Participants received a similar rating, whether they were judged facially or vocally.

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Overlapping cues

In fact, the researchers were taken aback at how often visual and auditory cues provided similar information.

“Although we were expecting there to be some overlapping information offered by faces and voices, we were surprised about the strength of the relationship,” Smith says.

“We found that it was particularly strong in terms of masculinity/femininity...This shows that if someone looks very masculine, they also sound very masculine.”

Later, participants listened to a voice and were asked to match it with a face. They performed the task with 60 percent accuracy.

“The study showed that our perception of femininity/masculinity, health, and height are consistent regardless of whether see a photograph, a person moving, or their voice," says Dr. Alex Jones, a psychology lecturer at Swansea University in Wales who's not affiliated with the study.

"Essentially, important attributes about a person’s attractiveness (femininity and health) are being signaled to observers from every possible avenue,” says Jones.

While the study didn’t examine why men who look masculine also tend to sound masculine, previous research indicates that hormones play a role.

“Men with higher levels of testosterone tend to have deeper voices and masculine facial features like larger jaws, chins, and noses,” Smith says.

Alexia Fodere / AFP - Getty Images
David Beckham, declared "sexiest man alive" by People magazine on November 17, 2015, had a higher-pitched voice before allegedly lowering it in recent years.

But Jones warns that voices and facial features don’t always match. For example, David Beckham’s high-pitched voice doesn’t fit his chiseled features.

“I think as a species we feel that there should be a link between faces and voices,” Jones says. “That is not to say a mismatch is always negative.”

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Identifying people

Most people don’t realize they’re making assumptions based on how people look and sound, which might be because this habit has an evolutionary basis.

“If faces and voices provide the same information this might facilitate quick judgements," Smith says.

"In the past this might have helped people to quickly assess threat, or perhaps to make decisions about potential mates."

These days, it could help with criminal investigations. Because audio cues reinforce visual ones, investigators might consider asking asking people how a suspect sounds in order to create a better image of a suspect, says Smith.

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