The Attractive Voice

Dating Profiles and Pick-up Lines

On a recent episode of the Graham Norton Show, Bryan Cranston explains how he directed videos of people’s dating profiles back in the 1980s. He pointed out that they had to do retakes whenever the subject displayed signs of nervousness or uptightness: tense monotone voice implying lack of confidence. More attractive recordings were made when the subjects did not know that the tape had been rolling. They were laughing naturally and seemed more relaxed.

In making parodic versions with Eddie Redmayne and Benedict Cumberbatch, you may have noticed that their intonations varied quite a bit (at 2:35). Whilst this may have been exaggerated in the art of performance, there is a basic attempt to produce an ‘attractive’ voice. Such an attempt can generally be found in the daily social lives of humans.

The Aesthetic Voice

“Susan Buck-Morss argues that “Aesthetics…is a form of cognition, achieved through taste, touch, hearing, seeing, smell – the whole corporeal sensorium. The terminae of all of these – nose, eyes, ears, mouth, some of the most sensitive areas of skin – are located at the surface of the body, the mediating boundary between inner and outer.”

– Neumark et al. 2010: 17

Vocal production, as an auditory mode of communication and self-expression, has an inherently aesthetic quality. We have tendencies to subconsciously form quick opinions on a person’s identity based on hearing just a snippet of his or her voice. In cases where we come across a voice that is distinctively ‘nice’ and attention-grabbing, we often find it difficult to pin-point why it is ‘nice’. We describe it using vague words such as clear, sexy, deep, rich, husky, and so on. The attractive voice is a mysterious voice. Even though the voice remains subjective in nature, we can explore some of the behavioural explanations of this mysterious phenomenon.

Sexual Attraction: Dating and Mating

In the parodies of the dating videos, the 3 celebrity guests seemed to have took their time in speaking their sentences and highlighted the deeper, darker tones of their voice. Studies show that women actually do tend to find deep voices more attractive in men, as it shows signs of confidence. When trying to sound sexy, men and women both slowed their speech that can create a more intense auditory experience for the listener. However, the level of conscious intentionality in such mechanical adjustments were very minimal (Hughes et al. 2014).

The voice can invite a profound understanding of person’s mental state with minimal conscious effort. Even when you’re not deliberately trying to display signs of romantic interest, others can interpret romantic interest from your voice. A study revealed that observers accurately guessed whether a sample of men and women were talking to a friend or a romantic partner, with hearing as little as a short phrase of “how are you?” These observers also noted that their voices sounded sexier, more pleasant and displayed more romantic interest when these heterosexual individuals were talking to their romantic partners rather than their same-sex friends (Farley et al. 2013).

From an anthropological perspective, all these aspects of vocal attraction demonstrate a sex-oriented perception of the aesthetic voice. Whilst such aspects can be explained by beneficial, behavioural and mechanical factors, most people can unconsciously manipulate their own vocal attractiveness, even without any specialist knowledge of such effects. As film actors who need to ensure good vocal delivery and appropriate portrayal of their characters, Eddie Redmayne and Benedict Cumberbatch are considered to be skilled in manipulating the level of attractiveness of their voices – especially given the large audiences they manage to attract.


Farley, S. D., Hughes, S. M., LaFayette, J. N. (2013) People will know we are in love: Evidence of differences between vocal samples directed toward lovers and friends. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior 37: 123-138.

Hughes, S. M., Mogilski, J. K., Harrison, M. A. (2014) The perception and parameters of intentional voice manipulation. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior 38(1): 107-127.

Neumark, N., Gibson, R., van Leeuwen, T. (2010) Voice: Vocal Aesthetics in Digital Arts and Media. United States of America: The MIT Press.


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