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A person's face, build, personality —sexual attraction can be based on many factors. But can the sound and tone of one's voice be a "turn-on" for potential mates? A recent study at Albright College indicates that the voice has much influence in how people perceive the opposite sex.

In fall 2009, Justin Mogilski '11 took "Evolution and Human Psychology" with Susan Hughes, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology. Hughes
has done studies on kissing, dating and sexual attraction that have garnered media attention from around the world. She's discussed kissing on the radio in Scotland, Canada and the United Kingdom. She's even filmed two separate segments for ABC's "Good Morning America."

Mogilski, a psychobiology and Spanish major from Wind Gap, Pa., had studied Hughes' work and looked to further his own research experience."I enjoyed her classes and I wanted to do more research on the topics," says Mogilski. "She suggested doing an ACRE project and I jumped at the chance."

An Albright Creative Research Experience (ACRE) is an interdisciplinary program that enables students to conduct research in partnership with a faculty mentor. Students have completed projects on topics from theatre to biology. Mogilski's study during the summer of 2010, "Sex Differences in the Perception and Production of Vocal Manipulations," has produced some interesting results.

The study investigated sex differences in the ability to intentionally manipulate the sound of one's voice to express certain attributes as it may relate to mate choice. "While a great deal of sexual attraction may revolve around the visual, evidence suggests that sounds are just as important. Voices can communicate a great deal of social and biological information that can either be a turn-on or a turn-off," says Hughes.

Using previous studies by Hughes, Mogilski knew that both men and women typically lowered their vocal tones when speaking with the more attractive members of the opposite sex. They knew men used deeper more dominant voices when speaking with women that they did not know, and they knew those men were more successful in getting future dates. So vocal manipulation was there, but was it being picked up by the selected target?

Forty upperclassmen, an even split of men and women, were recruited to provide voice samples for the project. Each counted from one to 10 in
what they considered their intelligent, dominant, confident, attractive and normal tones of voice. Forty underclassmen were then brought in and asked to rate the vocal tones on intelligence, dominance, confidence and attractiveness.

Raters had no other information on the subject, other than the simple recording of his or her voice. Results of the study concluded that female participants were able to recognize voice manipulations in men; however, in most cases they rated the man's natural voice as more attractive than the projected attractive voice. "Men may be trying too hard to sound attractive when they could simply use their natural voice to achieve the goal," says Hughes. Women did rate men's projected dominant, intelligent and confident voices much higher than their natural voices in those respective categories.

Men rating women's voices did not fare as well. "It was very clear across the board that men were unable to detect vocal manipulations in the female voices," says Hughes. Men rated each voice the same showing no favor to either the natural or projected tone. "I guess the very interesting question remains," jokes Hughes, "are women not able to manipulate their voices or can men just not read the manipulations?"

Neither men nor women could find vocal manipulations in same-sex speakers.

The ink on the study had barely dried before Mogilski was approached by Albright Provost Andrea Chapdelaine, Ph.D., and head of the ACRE program Frieda Texter, Ph.D. '72, to enter the project in a national competition. "The Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) and the National Conferences on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) are national organizations that work with faculty around the country to promote undergraduate research," says Chapdelaine. "They were looking for student work to profile for an event at the Library of Congress. The two organizations were celebrating their merger with a large event. It was a very prestigious and competitive process." Mogilski was honored by the suggestion and a little flustered to meet deadlines. "The process happened very fast, the abstract was due in less than a week," he says. Of the entries received Mogilski was selected as one of 10 to present a poster at the Library of Congress in October 2010.

"This event drew famous researchers, members of Congress, lobbyists for undergraduate research and officials from liberal arts schools across the country," says Chapdelaine. "We were very proud of his selection."

Despite his success with the project, Mogilski says he is not done yet. "There is a tremendous amount of data that we collected which can still be analyzed for other purposes," he says. "I'm using this to complete a senior honor thesis." Hughes agrees, "There are really three to four studies in one with this data."

In addition to the voice manipulation data collected, the researchers also gathered body measurements from participants. They will examine waist to hip ratios, shoulder to hip ratios, height, weight and body symmetry. They have collected what is known as the 2D:4D ratio, where researchers look at the length of the index finger compared to the length of the ring finger and can tell how much prenatal hormones the subject was exposed to in the first trimester of their gestation.

Mogilski has already completed a spectrogram analysis on the data, which will detect physical traits of the voice. Next he will conduct a study where subjects listen to the voices while viewing photos of various people. Eye-tracking machinery will detect where the eyes go when the voice
doesn't seem to match the physical qualities of the person pictured. "It is amazing how the tone of one's voice is related to the physical attributes. There are dozens of applications for this type of data and we've only just begun," says Hughes. You can keep up-to-date on the results of Mogilski's study by visiting www.albright.edu/reporter.

"While a great deal of sexual attraction may revolve around the visual, evidence suggests that sounds are just as important. Voices can communicate a great
deal of information
that can either be a turn-on or a turn-off."

- professor Susan Hughes, Ph.D.


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