While you may secretly pine for Tom Riddle to open your Chamber of Secrets, new research reveals that the attractiveness of Parseltongues would be highly contested in the real world. Men and women judge vocal attractiveness of consonants in different ways, particularly when it comes to the duration of the vocal cue “s” — as in the sinister, snakelike hiss. Female listeners think it’s hotter when “s” length is decreased, while male listeners don’t.
This research is novel because previous vocal attractiveness studies showed that both men and women typically agree on how attractive voiced vowels are. Consonants, however, are a different beast. To examine each sex’s reaction to “s,” University of Toronto linguistics researcher Emily Blamire, Ph.D., had 16 women and 16 men listen to the sound of “s” spoken by either a male or female voice. Study participants were asked to rate how attractive it sounded on a seven-point scale, while Blamire manipulated the recording to make the “s” sound shorter or longer.
Men didn’t mind a long “s” for voices of either sex, but women found it less attractive overall. This shows that men and women have different criteria when it comes to judging what is attractive in a voice. Blamire will present this unpublished research on Wednesday at the 172 Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Vocal attractiveness research is an increasingly important field for artificial intelligence researchers who want to figure out how to make users want to interact with “digital assistants,” like Apple’s Siri. But it’s been a long-standing point of interest for biologists and psychologists, who are interested in the evolutionary purpose of the human voice.
Scientists have understood that the human voice conveys biological information, physiological details, social classifications, and emotional states. And while men and women both have their preferences in how their mate sounds, it’s generally understood that people of either sex know an attractive voice when they hear it, regardless of sexual preference. This new research adds a new caveat what we’ve previously known — that is, the element of desire — although we don’t know exactly why this difference in taste occurs.
“For the linguistic community, I think of one of the most important aspects of this work was that not all constants cues that encode social information — such as sex — played a role in perception of vocal attractiveness,” Blamire said in a statement. “Truly, the wider value of this study, I feel, is that it is one little step more in illustrating the complexity of the human mind in how we perceive and categorize the world around us.”