By Ashley Yeager

Deeper voices get votes even in PTA and school board elections. Credit: Barton Stabler,

A lower pitched voice gets more votes — even in elections for stereotypically feminine roles, such as for president of the Parent-Teacher Association or member of the School Board, a new Duke study shows.

“These findings are somewhat surprising,” said University of Miami political scientist Casey Klofstad, co-author on the study. He explained that since women typically hold these kinds of leadership positions, people might assume that voters would prefer leaders with more feminine voices.

“We found the opposite, that the preference for leaders with more masculine voices generally still holds,” he said. The results, which appear Dec. 12 in PLoS ONE, however, suggest that women may want men with more feminine qualities to take feminine leadership positions.

“The selection of leaders is arguably one of the most important decisions we make,” said Duke biologist Rindy Anderson, lead author on the study. “It is worth considering that voice pitch, a physically-determined trait that may or may not be related to leadership capacity, influences how we select our leaders,” she said.

In the experiment, she and Klofstad recorded people saying, “I urge you to vote for me this November,” and then altered the recordings to create high and low-pitched versions of each voice. The scientists then held hypothetical elections by asking people to choose, based solely on voice pitch, which candidate they would prefer when voting for president of the PTA or for a position on the School Board.

The results show that women did not distinguish between men with higher-or lower-pitched voices for the two feminine leadership roles. This finding contradicts the team’s previous study, which identified women’s strong preference for men with more masculine voices when voting for candidates who were “running against each other in an election,” rather than for a specific leadership position. The new finding suggests that the strong preference women had in the previous experiment is more relaxed within the more specific context of feminine leadership roles.

“Another possibility is that women are less sensitive to this vocal cue within the context of this specific domain of leadership. It is also possible that some women might actually prefer male leaders with more feminine voices for feminine leadership roles,” Klofstad said.

The scientists need to do more work to understand what is happening to women’s preferences in this situation, he said, adding that he and Anderson also want to know whether people with lower voices are truly more competent leaders.

“We need to test whether voice pitch actually signals anything about leadership capacity,” Klofstad said. He and Anderson are now designing those experiments.

Citation: “Preference for Leaders with Masculine Voices Holds in the Case of Feminine Leadership Roles.” Anderson, R. and Klofstad, C. 2012. PLOS ONE. 7(12): e51216. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0051216.