A low voice isn’t just a titillating hint that a man has crappy sperm — it may also be a tool for warding off sexual competition and for making other people think that said man is authoritative even if he’s really just a doofus with gravel at the base of his throat.
Guardian scribe Alice Roberts uses red deer mating season (because who doesn’t like to listen to rutting animals cry out to each other, “I’M HORNY” across miles of arable land?) to talk shop about the human larynx, specifically about how low and weird the men’s larynxes tend to be. Why is it that dudes have such low larynxes, and does having a low-slung larynx (which creates a lower-sounding voice and therefore diminishes one’s vocal range) limit their ability to express themselves?
The answer may lie in a recent study from the University of Aberdeen that found women (generally) express a preference for deep voices in potential male slam pieces (science is trying to be culturally hip, you guys, so, like, cut it some slack). But wait! Choosing sexual partners isn’t just about winning attention from a potential mate. It’s also about deterring competition, especially if you’ve taken a time machine and traveled back to the prehistoric time when men had ram’s horns growing out of their sideburns and would grapple for female attention on the sides of mountains.
But it could also be that men, like stags, have evolved low voices in order to deter sexual competitors. In support of this idea, it's been found that men modulate the pitch of their voices when they're in competition with one another, as revealed by a dating game, played in the interests of science, at the University of Pittsburgh. Male students were pitted against an unseen male rival in order to win a date. Each participant had a conversation with the adversary, so they had an opportunity to "size him up". The results of those conversations were fascinating: participants who believed themselves to be more physically dominant than their rival lowered their voices. But students who thought they were less dominant raised their voices to a higher pitch. The men were sizing each other up, just like rutting stags. But they were also changing their voices in a way that suggests they were – without being aware of it – managing the confrontation to avoid conflict. A man who thought he was more dominant lowered his voice to emphasise his dominance and intimidate his competitor. A man who thought he was likely to lose the game, just by listening to his adversary, spoke in a higher voice: don't bother fighting me – you've won, mate.
In the interest of science, researcher at the University of Pittsburgh basically found that dudes do all their Barry White growling to impress each other, which might be pretty useful if people were tracking mastodons from forest to forest, but we’re not. Also, “win a date”? Was this a university-sanctioned study, or a state fair at which researchers ate too much funnel cake, drank too much cider, and passed out behind the dunking tank after being jeered into submission by a ring toss booth proprietor? The fair can be so emasculating.