Voice parameters predict sex-specific body morphology in men and women

Katarzyna Pisanski, Benedict C. Jones, Bernhard Fink, Jillian J.M. O'Connor, Lisa M. DeBruine, Susanne Röder, David R. Feinberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Citations (Scopus)
23 Downloads (Pure)


Studies of several mammalian species confirm that formant frequencies (vocal tract resonances) predict height and weight better than does fundamental frequency (F0, perceived as pitch) in same-sex adults due to differential anatomical constraints. However, our recent meta-analysis (Pisanski et al., 2014, Animal Behaviour, 95, 89-99) indicated that formants and F0 could explain no more than 10% and 2% of the variance in human height, respectively, controlling for sex and age. Here, we examined whether other voice parameters, many of which are affected by sex hormones, can indicate additional variance in human body size or shape, and whether these relationships differ between the sexes. Using a cross-cultural sample of 700 men and women, we examined relationships among 19 voice parameters (minimum-maximum F0, mean F0, F0 variability, formant-based vocal tract length estimates, shimmer, jitter, harmonics-to-noise ratio) and eight indices of body size or shape (height, weight, body mass index, hip, waist and chest circumferences, waist-to-hip ratio, chest-to-hip ratio). Our results confirm that formant measures explain the most variance in heights and weights of men and women, whereas shimmer, jitter and harmonics-to-noise ratio do not indicate height, weight or body mass index in either sex. In contrast, these perturbation and noise parameters, in addition to F0 range and variability, explained more variance in body shape than did formants or mean F0, particularly among men. Shimmer or jitter explained the most variance in men's hip circumferences (12%) and chest-to-hip ratios (6%), whereas harmonics-to-noise ratio and formants explained the most variance in women's waist-to-hip ratios (11%), and significantly more than in men's waist-to-hip ratios. Our study represents the most comprehensive analysis of vocal indicators of human body size to date and offers a foundation for future research examining the hormonal mechanisms of voice production in humans and perceptual playback experiments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-22
Number of pages10
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2016


  • acoustic communication
  • body size
  • chest-to-hip ratio
  • formant
  • fundamental frequency
  • jitter
  • sexual selection
  • shimmer
  • voice
  • waist-to-hip ratio


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