Disclosure statement

Heather R Kember receives funding from the Australian Research Council

Marina Kalashnikova receives funding from the Australian Research Council.

Partners

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There are many unconscious things we do when we’re flirting with someone. from shutterstock.com

We actually have the ability to change the attractiveness of our voice depending on our interlocutor, and we do this without knowing. Women sometimes modify their voices to sound most attractive during the most fertile part of their menstrual cycle. Men also modify the pitch in their voice, specifically when confronted with potential competitors in dating scenarios.

This means that just like we fix our hairstyle or clothes to look more attractive for a date, we also give our voices an unconscious makeover to sound more attractive and sexually fit.

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Sounding the same

Another phenomenon that may also cause changes in the way we speak when talking to a love interest is something called “phonetic convergence”. People who talk to each other tend to start sounding more similar, completely unaware they are doing so.

This similarity can be speech rate (how fast we’re talking), the pitch or intonation patterns we use, or even the way we produce individual words or sounds. This adaption can happen over long (months or years) and even very short (one-hour lab study) periods of time.

One study compared the speech of five pairs of new roommates who had just moved in together. At the beginning and end of semester, researchers took recordings of each person and asked them to rate how they felt about their new roommate. They found that the roommates sounded more similar at the end compared to the beginning of semester and that this convergence was related to the ratings of closeness.


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People who talk to each other tend to start sounding more similar, completely unaware they are doing so. from shutterstock.com

So how could this relate to physical attraction? One proposed explanation of phonetic convergence, the similarity attraction hypothesis, is that people try to be more similar to those they are attracted to. So, in an effort to be more similar to someone we are interested in, we may start to talk more similarly and maximise the chances they will also find us attractive.

The opposite can also happen: this is called “phonetic divergence”. Divergence may occur when we want to be more distinct, or less similar to our speaking partner, perhaps when we aren’t attracted to them.

It also doesn’t necessarily take months for this to happen. Phonetic convergence can occur in a much shorter time.

In another experiment, researchers brought previously unacquainted pairs of participants into the lab to complete a task. Both partners have a map, but only one has the route drawn on their map. Their job is to describe the route to their partner so they can draw it, without using pointing or other gestures, only words.

The researchers found convergence occurred in the session and even persisted after participants had completed the experimental task.

The great news is these changes happen automatically and unconsciously.

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When we face an attractive partner, our voices and speech are modified to sound more attractive and alike. So during a conversation with that special someone, your voice may be doing the hard work to let them know you are interested, which may increase your chances of getting a second date.