Every week the Big Issue looks at tall tales or spurious stories to give you the facts.
This week: Are men with deep voices really more likely to cheat?
How it was told
Tall, dark and handsome might be the traits that make you swipe right on Tinder. But red-blooded blokes with deep voices can also set pulses racing. The legions of admirers for actor Idris Elba, Vin Diesel and Barry White will attest to that.
However, reports last week suggested that this could be a double-edged sword.
Their voice can make them popular partners – perhaps too popular – with news stories last week suggesting that men with deep voices are more likely to be unfaithful.
A study carried out by researchers at Southwest University in Chongqing, China, published in the Personality and Individual Differences journal, attracted plenty of admirers with widespread coverage.
Sky News reported the story under the headline: “Men with deep voices ‘more likely to cheat’, new research shows” and very much set the tone for other media outlets.
Metro, at least, mixed things up a little bit with their effort: “Men with deep voices more likely to be unfaithful, research claims”.
The Mail Online brought in a new aspect: testosterone. Their headline read: “That’s low! Men with deep voices are more likely to cheat on their partners due to higher levels of testosterone, study claims”
And The Guardian took a humorous look at the research in their relationships section. They opted for: “Sexy but unreliable: why women should beware men with deep voices”.
But you’d be hard-pressed to find much variation elsewhere in the Evening Standard, The Mirror or AOL’s versions of the tale.
But are they accurate?
There is a lot of merit to this study and it does add weight to a long-held theory. But the problem for UK audiences is clear – the research only really applies to Chinese university students.
The researchers from China’s Southwest University found men with deeper voices were less committed to their romantic relationships and more likely to be unfaithful.
In total, 116 male students and 145 female students in relatively short relationships were quizzed. All participants were non-smokers, spoke Mandarin, reported not having a cold and had an average age of 20.
From there, they were all recorded saying the same phrases to determine the pitch of their voice and asked how likely they were to cheat in a relationship.
Researchers concluded that masculine men, as determined by the recordings, are more likely to engage in infidelity and commit less to their romantic relationships compared with feminine men. However, this effect did not exist in women.
That was reported by all of the news outlets whereas the limitations of the study – and there are plenty of major ones – were less prominently reported or missed out.
Most obviously, the narrow age range and diversity of participants means that the study doesn’t mean much to anyone else – as researchers acknowledge: “their mating dynamics and concept of marriage vary considerably from later adulthood”.
Another problem arose in that the study proposed that “hormone levels act as a link”, inferring that the deep voices suggest high testosterone that factors into attraction levels.
As reported in various stories, researchers concluded: “Testosterone and the characteristics dependent on testosterone can be reliable indicators of quality-dependent conditions or behaviours…therefore, men with higher testosterone levels, and hence lower voices, may have more infidelity behaviours or less commitment to their romantic relationship.”
This is problematic because researchers did not measure testosterone levels in the study. Nor did they measure actual infidelity taking place, just the intention.
To be fair to the scientists who carried out the work, they are forthcoming that more study is required, including measuring testosterone and widening out participants to reflect different cultures, ages and relationship types and durations. This is even reported in some stories.
But the fact remains that there is nothing in the study to justify the headlines relating to a UK audience, or a global audience for online, when it is primarily about China. While theoretically the findings carry weight, to apply them to UK men is a bit of a cheat.
Illustration: Miles Cole