Evidence Soup
How to find, use, and explain evidence.

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Sunday, 20 June 2010

Finally, an explanation for Mike Tyson: Evidence shows no correlation between a man's strength and the pitch of his voice. (Oh, and blondes aren't always angrier.)

New Scientist reported new evidence showing that people can predict a man's upper-body strength based on voice alone. The researchers say that "Because it is probable that the voice contains cues of strength and formidability that are not available visually, we predicted that selection has also equipped humans with the ability to estimate physical strength from the voice. We found that subjects accurately assessed upper-body strength in voices taken from eight samples across four distinct populations and language groups: the Tsimane of Bolivia, Andean herder-horticulturalists and United States and Romanian college students." The entire article, Adaptations in humans for assessing physical strength from the voice, is available here.

Mike Tyson Not so fast. When I first read this, I figured it probably meant people would expect Mike Tyson to be a 98-pound weakling. But the New Scientist explains that which "aspects of voice we link with strength remain unknown, since there was no correlation between a man's strength and the pitch or timbre of his voice. That's surprising... since previous research showed deeper voices were rated as coming from stronger men." So although Tyson was not one of the study subjects, the new findings may explain why we would likely not want to fight him, even if we only heard his high-pitched voice.

The researchers concluded that "Regardless of whether raters were told to assess height, weight, strength or fighting ability, they produced similar ratings that tracked upper-body strength independent of height and weight. Raters extracted information about strength from the voice that was not supplied from visual cues, and were accurate with both familiar and unfamiliar languages. These results provide, to our knowledge, the first direct evidence that both men and women can accurately assess men's physical strength from the voice, and suggest that estimates of strength are used to assess fighting ability."

Angry Blonde Woman Who said blondes are more angry? One of the voice-strength researchers, Aaron Sell, had an interesting run-in recently with the Sunday Times of London, who published a piece claiming that another of his studies "found a link between blonde hair in women and anger, entitlement and 'warlike' behavior." Not so, says Sell: "News Flash! Press gets the data fantastically wrong. No such research was done, and my colleagues and I believe the claims of the article are false. As can be seen by a search in my original publication (here), the words 'blonde' or even 'hair' never appear. Nevertheless, the story spread rapidly throughout the blogosphere and the mainstream news. We are working to correct the story. Click here to read our letter to the Times. What I did do was research on the evolved function of anger, and its relationship to variables such as strength and attractiveness. Click here for more." (For the record, Sell does appear to be on the blonde side in his web site photo.)

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