Was audience reaction to Susan Boyle based entirely upon a false, cultural stereotype, or could there be a real connection between physical attractiveness and voice quality—one that is rooted in biology? Researcher Susan Hughes finds just such a connection.
Hughes, Harrison and Gallup (2002): The sound of symmetry: Voice as a marker of developmental instability. (Abstract):
In other words, there is, indeed, a correlation between physical attractiveness and attractive voices. Good-looking people tend to have more appealing voices than people who are not perceived as attractive.
What is the underlying connection between physical attractiveness and attractive voices? Hughes says that both signal mating fitness.
Hughes et. al. (2004):
Vocal development is influenced and modified by activational sex hormones during adolescence. Estrogen and progesterone shape the mature female voice, while testosterone modifies the male voice (Abitbol, Abitbol, & Abitbol, 1999) The same hormones that affect voice have also been implicated in the development of sex-specific body configuration features. For instance, waist-to-hip ratios (WHR) in females become more accentuated during puberty, and WHR is an indicator of a female’s hormonal profile (increased estrogen) and reproductive status (Singh, 1993). Similarly, during puberty, the male’s shoulders broaden, increasing his shoulder-to-hip ratio (SHR). Broad shoulders and narrow hips appear to be shaped by testosterone (Kasperk et al., 1997). Because both voice and WHR/SHR are affected by sex hormones, we examined whether ratings of voice attractiveness were related to variation in SHR and WHR.
WHR and SHR not only influence judgments of attractiveness (Djkstra & Buunk, 2001; Singh, 1993), but also, variation in these traits predicts different aspects of sexual behavior in both males and females (Hughes & Gallup, 2003). Women with low WHR (smaller waist compared with the hips) are rated as being more attractive (Beck, Ward-Hull, & McClear, 1976; Singh, 1993), report having sex at an earlier age, and report having more sex partners (Hughes & Gallup, 2003; Mikach & Bailey, 1999). Men with high SHR (larger shoulders and smaller hips) are likewise judged to be more attractive (Dijkstra & Buunk, 2001) and are also more sexually experienced (Hughes & Gallup, 2003). Therefore, we also examined the relationship between ratings of voice attractiveness and different features of sexual behavior...
For both sexes, ratings of opposite-sex voice attractiveness also predicted reported age of first sexual intercourse, number of sexual partners, number of extra-pair copulation (EPC) partners, and number of partners that they had intercourse with that were involved in another relationship (i.e., were themselves chosen as an EPC partner). Coupled with previous findings showing a relationship between voice attractiveness and bilateral symmetry, these results provide additional evidence that the sound of a person’s voice may serve as an important multidimensional [mating] fitness indicator.