The higher a male's voice (x-axis) the less successfully he mates (y-axis). Image courtesy Apicella et al., Biol. Lett., 2007.
Bachelor Number One—say Hello! Or is it ... Hujambo?
This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.
Anthropologist Coren Apicella of Harvard University has studied the Hadza. This is an isolated African tribe, living much as humans did two hundred thousand years ago. Meaning men hunt, women gather.
Their limited exposure to the outside means their vocal preferences are untainted by, say, the sultry tones of a late-night DJ.
Apicella had Hadza women listen to recordings of male voices that were computer altered to change pitch. They rated lower-voiced bachelors as better hunters—
Fertile women showed no preference when it came to husband material. However, breastfeeding women preferred a higher-pitched greeting—
Why the difference? Deep voices signal higher testosterone levels. Better for bringing in the bacon, but a risky bet for marriage stability.
Nursing moms, whose ability to gather food is limited, lean toward the more dependable-sounding suitor.
In an earlier study of the Hadza, though, Apicella found that lower-voiced men fathered more children.
But if their higher-voiced brothers stick around camp and help out with the dishes, I'd call that an even trade.
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Thursday, from 2-3 p.m. on the LDOS blog: Sandra chats with author Ashley Merryman about her book (with Po Bronson) Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing.
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