Desirable Memories

Women seem to remember information better if they hear it in a low-pitched male voice, a new study suggests.

ProTip: A deep voice can also help you remember your secret royal heritage.

But the conclusions drawn from the study’s data – namely, that women’s memories are attuned to the voices of sexually desirable men – are a bit shakier. Let’s break this research down and see what it’s really all about.

As the journal Memory & Cognition reports, a team led by David Smith at the University of Aberdeen started by selecting a group of 45 female volunteers. The women were shown pictures of objects, while they listened to manipulated recordings of high- and low-pitched male and female voices speaking the names of the objects.

The volunteers were then asked which voice they preferred, and tested on their recall for the objects they were shown. As it turned out, most strongly preferred the low-pitched male voice – and objects paired with that voice were the ones they were best at remembering.

For a second set of experiments, the team selected another 46 women, and ran through the same picture-and-voice sequence – only this time, they added real male and female voices to the mix as well. Again, the results were clear: women tended to prefer low-pitched male voices, and they best remembered pictures associated with those voices:

Women’s visual object memory is significantly enhanced when an object’s name is spoken during encoding in a masculinised (i.e., lower-pitch) versus feminised (i.e., higher-pitch) male voice, but that no analogous effect occurs when women listen to other women’s voices. Additionally, … lowering and raising male voice pitch enhanced and impaired women’s memory, respectively, relative to a baseline (i.e., unmanipulated) voice condition.

In other words, women respond more strongly to male voices with low pitch than to any other gender/pitch combination the researchers tried.

Here’s how the researchers interpret their results:

We think this is evidence that evolution has shaped women’s ability to remember information associated with desirable men. Good memory for specific encounters with desirable men allows women to compare and evaluate men according to how they might behave in different relationship contexts, [and] this would help women to pick a suitable partner.

In other words, women have evolved to remember information more strongly if it’s associated with sexually desirable masculine sensory stimuli.

So, what can we say about these results? Well, although the study definitely demonstrates that, for at least some women, visual memory for an object is strengthened by hearing that object’s name in a low-pitched male voice, it doesn’t explore how a woman’s memory responds to low-pitched sounds in general – or to other types of sensory data (like smell and touch) that might evoke a sexually attractive male.

This study also doesn’t tell us anything about how men respond to voices of various genders and types – data on that might strengthen the researchers’ hypothesis about memory and sexual attractiveness, or such data might cast the whole discussion in a new light. It’s hard to say at this point.

What the study does tell us is that our memories are composed of multi-sensory data, and can be strengthened or weakened by playing with various associated sensory “settings.”

It also might help explain why Morgan Freeman can sound awesome while saying literally anything.

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One Response to “Desirable Memories”

  1. […] sense that the more we associate a particular memory with other memories – and with strong emotions – the more easily even a damaged hippocampus will be able to help retrieve […]

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