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home | Feature Articles | The Human Voice - Pitch

The Human Voice - Pitch
Tonya Reiman
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The human voice is a magical tool. It can be used to identify those we know and love; to create wonderful music through singing; it allows people to communicate verbally; and, it can help in the recognition of emotions. Everyone has a distinct voice, different from all others; almost like a fingerprint, one's voice is unique and can act as an identifier. The human voice is composed of a multitude of different components, making each voice different; namely, pitch, tone, and rate. The following article, the first of a three part series on the voice, will discuss the pitch component of the voice. It will explore what voice pitch is, how it is used and how it can be influential. The human voice has many components and is created through a myriad of muscle movements. Pitch is an integral part of the human voice. The pitch of the voice is defined as the "rate of vibration of the vocal folds" . The sound of the voice changes as the rate of vibrations varies. As the number of vibrations per second increases, so does the pitch, meaning the voice would sound higher. Faster rates form higher voices, or higher pitches, while slower rates elicit deeper voices, or lower pitches. How are these vibrations and pitches created? The vibrations, and the speed at which they vibrate, are dependent on the length and thickness of the vocal cords, as well as the tightening and relaxation of the muscles surrounding them. This explains why women generally have higher voices than men do; women tend to have higher voices because they have shorter vocal cords. The length and thickness of the vocal cords, however, are not the only factors that affect one's pitch. The pitch of someone's voice can also be affected by emotions, moods and inflection. Interestingly, our emotions can also affect the pitch of our voices. When people become frightened or excited, the muscles around the voice box (or larynx) unconsciously contract, putting strain on the vocal cords, making the pitch higher. Again, not all pitch change is done unconsciously. A change in pitch is known as inflection and humans exercise this naturally all the time. People tend to exercise conscious control of the pitch of their voice when refraining from screaming, because it tightens and strains the vocal cords, or changing the pitch of our voice to mimic someone, for instance. The voice tends to change, sliding up and down the pitch scale, as we express different emotions, thoughts and feelings. Pitch is not solely an objective component of voice; research has shown that pitch is associated with attractiveness amongst men and women. Studies done by Collins & Missing and Feinberg et al discovered that men deemed women with higher pitched voices more attractive. This may be because higher pitched voices are associated with youth and fertility in women. Women, on the other hand, tend to find men with lower pitched voices sexy and desirable. A study done by Putz found that women associated low-pitched men's voices with uncommitted sex, making these men sexually preferred. Putz also discovered that women's desire for men with lower pitched voices increased with fertility over the ovulatory cycle. These findings may be shocking to many as so often it is men that are deemed those who are searching for uncommitted sex while women are searching for a man offering fertility and stability. Similar to the aforementioned studies, researchers from Harvard University, Florida State University and McMaster discovered that pitch predicted reproductive success of males amongst hunter-gatherers. These researchers, studying the reproductive patterns of the Hadza, a tribe in Tanzania, found that men with lower pitched voices tended to have more children. This could be because the Hazda women chose men with lower pitched voices because they believed them to be better providers. In addition, studies have shown that low pitch voices are associated with higher levels of testosterone, so women may have chosen these men because they perceived them to be better hunters. It seems voice pitch, an arbitrary characteristic, can certainly have important impacts on human sexual preference and mating, as well as what we find attractive in the opposite sex. The pitch of our voices is created through vibrations of the vocal folds. The rate at which these folds vibrate changes the way our voices sound, with faster rates equating higher pitches. Studies have shown that women tend to prefer men with lower pitched voices and find these men more attractive. Furthermore, it has been discovered that men with lower pitched voices seem to have more children, perhaps owing to the fact that more women are attracted to them or that these men are viewed as stronger. The pitch of one's voice can help in unconsciously divulging the feelings and emotions, but can also be consciously manipulated so as not to put strain on the vocal cords or to create a certain sound. The voice and the way it is used are unique to every individual.

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