Some voices sound better than others, but according to a study published Tuesday, the correlations between vocal quality and listener perception are gender dependant.
Scientists from the University of California, Irvine, and the University of Utah videotaped 42 people reading sentences for the study.
Following that, a separate group of study volunteers was asked to listen to the recorded words and score the attractiveness of various voices.
The researchers examined many correlates of clear speech, including “vowel space area,” which allowed them to quantify the relationship between intelligibility and vocal attractiveness.
“Multiple measures of working vowel space were computed from continuously sampled formant trajectories and were combined with measures of speech timing known to co-vary with clear articulation,” researchers wrote in the paper, published Tuesday in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.
Parents, teachers and even voice coaches often advise speakers to slow down and enunciate to improve the listening experience for their audience.
“However, when it comes to empirical studies of how attractiveness of the human voice is judged, we couldn’t find previous work investigating whether an actual link exists between perceived attractiveness and overall clarity of articulation,” study co-author Daniel Stehr said in a press release.
Researchers found vowel space area, a measure of acoustic clarity or articulation, was highly correlated with vocal attractiveness — accounting for 73% of the variance in ratings — but only for female voices.
Listeners showed no preference for clarity when rating the attractiveness of male voices.
“From a sexual selection standpoint, males with traits that are slightly more masculine than average are typically preferred, which in this context would make males with less clear speech more attractive,” said Stehr, a graduate student and researcher at the Visual Perception and Neuroimaging Lab at UC Irvine.
“At the same time, constricted vowel space area and lower perceived clarity is associated with a range of speech motor disorders, suggesting a lack of clarity may also have indicated the presence of disease to our ancestors,” Stehr said.