Aggressive Human Roars Apparently Reveal a Lot About Physical Strength

"That's enough, I'm coming for you."

Warner Bros

Now that you know you probably don’t have Big Dick Energy, a study published Thursday in iScience suggests a way you might fill that void: Namely, by roaring really, really loudly to show other people how big, strong, and manly you are.

Roaring to convey strength seems like something you only ever see in Russell Crowe movies, but according to Jordan Raine, an associate tutor in Psychology at the University of Sussex, people really are very good at judging how strong someone is based on certain vocal cues, like aggressive speech or the full-out roar.

In the past, Raine’s research on the link between vocal quality and perceived strength has pointed to animals — for example, the red deer, which can actually lower their larynx to produce deafening roars intended to confer dominance, but more recently he noticed that academics have neglected to study similar traits in humans. When people talk, he noted in a release about the new study on Thursday, we tend to focus more on what they say, and less on how they say it. “The influence of nonverbal characteristics of our voices (i.e. nonverbal vocalizations, as well as how we speak when we use words) is under-researched and under-appreciated,” he says.

To fill this gap in the literature, he gathered a group of 31 male and 30 female actors and measured their strength and height. One metric they used for strength — bicep circumference — seems suspicious, but it’s actually generally accepted as a good indicator of strength. For height, they just measured people, although the authors note that they occasionally used self-report, which as we’ve seen isn’t always accurate. Then, he asked the actors to angrily say: “That’s enough, I’m coming for you,” before asking the actors to really go for it and let out a roar.

Then, the team had 101 non-actors listen to the recordings and then judge the height and strength of the actors relative to themselves. After listening to that aggressive sentence, Raine found that people were accurate about 88 percent of the time when asked to judge how their personal strength measured up with that of the “vocalizer,” based solely on the recording. But when they looked more closely at responses to roars produced by men, they noticed a tendency for listeners to rate the men as “disproportionately stronger and larger” than themselves.

The results revealed a problematic polarization between women and men. Women, Raine says, tended to assume that men were far stronger than themselves based on the quality of the roar. This happened even when both the female listener and the male vocalizer had the same bicep circumference. Men also tended to underestimate the strength of female vocalizers, which, as Raine wrote in an article published in The Conversation, fits with “a general tendency for men to over estimate, and women to underestimate their abilities.”

So what initially began as a study looking into ways that humans have vocally established dominance for thousands of years, rapidly devolved into an unfortunate reminder of how women have historically been underestimated and encouraged to underestimate themselves. But that said, it also is a good reminder that humans, although language allows us to express complex thoughts, still communicate in lots of “animalistic” ways.

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