Question: Who are perceived as good leaders?

Answers: Those with certain evolutionarily beneficial physical traits. 

Evolutionary logic posits that our current political psychology and behavior are the outcomes of past selection pressure. Humans are social animals. We share goals and resources with our family members and other people in the group. This certainly is true for our ancestors in the past. Good and efficient leaders in the past could be very important for our dynamic group problem solving skills, especially in hunting and protecting kin (family members) and have been selected. So what are the indicators of good leaderships? Generally speaking, certain physical traits such as height, weight, strength, and endurance are found to be important socially dominant cues people associate with great leadership qualities. However, ur modern day political elections are large-scale novel phenomenon that our ancestors did not face in the past. Therefore, our past selected heuristic mindsets could be more influential than our rational/logical thinking in our modern day voting.

There are plenty of evidences in literature that reported that some physical characteristics such as certain face shapes, eye shapes, body weight, height or voice could predict who would win the election. In other words, you can just do quick snap judgements of the candidates’ physical traits (qualities or actions, not necessarily needed to be considered!) and predict quite confidently about the results ahead. Indeed, a famous study by Todorov et al. (2005) showed that participants’ inferences of the competence of candidate by viewing a candidate’s photograph very briefly were actually related to actual outcome of the candidate.

Banai et al. (2016)’s study

I am presenting and summarizing exciting findings from Banai et al. (2016). In this current study published in Evolution and Human Behavior journal, Banai et al. (2016) looked at the voice of the presidential candidates across the globe and predicted who would have won the election based on the vocal characteristics alone. They measured two important voice characteristics: voice pitch and voice pitch variability.

Quick Background of the Study

Voice pitch can be divided into high  Vs. low pitch. Voice variability can also be considered as low (i.e. monotonic) Vs. highly varied. High pitched voice is associated as more feminine while low pitched voice is associated with more masculine trait. Monotone means more or less same tone across conversation and highly variability voice pitch means more or less “sing-song character” (it’s like you are talking to infants). Men more than women have lower pitch and lower pitch variability.


The study compared the outcomes of presidential elections around the globe in the periods of eleven years from 2006- 2016. The voice samples were obtained from YouTube. Two vocal characteristics were analyzed: voice pitch and voice pitch variability. Because there were fewer female presidential candidates, only males were included in this analysis. A total of 51 presidential elections were selected in the final analysis. This is a simplified version of the methods, and the actual study is more complicated. Read the actual report for details here.


Results 1: The analysis showed that winners generally had lower pitch and lower pitch variability.


Lower pitch and lower pitch variability suggest higher masculinity, which could be beneficial traits to our male ancestors whose traits have been associated with greater dominance, intimidation, and genetic fitness.

Lower pitched voice is based on vocal fold vibration and during puberty men’s vocal fold became bigger and thicker because of the increase of testosterone (Abitbol et al., 1999). Thicker vocal folds are linked with lower pitched voice in men (Hollien & Shipp, 1972). Testosterone level is an honest signal of genetic fitness, i.e. those with weaker immune system cannot have higher testosterone level (read previous blogs). So only those guys who are honestly genetically fit can have higher testosterone and consequently possess lower pitched voice.

Results 2:
  There are also several mixed results. The analysis of another interaction model showed that those with lower voice pitch increases their chances to win if they have higher pitch variability. Those with higher voice pitch are more likely to win if they have lower pitch variability.


Based on the explanations from the original study, I constructed the interpretation table that is easier for you to visualize.

Note: The study is correlational and does not have results from tightly controlled experiments. Causal interpretations from this study would be misleading.

Practical Recommendations for You: Well, if you do not have a lower-pitch, but desire to be or appear socially dominant, you are not doomed yet! Based on this study’s results, if you want to be more competent in leadership and have high pitch variability, perhaps make it somewhat monotone! This could come in handy when you are giving presentations or interview answers.


Abitbol, J., Abitbol, P., & Abitbol, B. (1999). Sex hormones and the female voice. Journal of Voice, 13, 424–446.

Hollien, H., & Shipp, T. (1972). Speaking fundamental frequency and chronologic age in males. Journal of Speech Language and Hearing Research, 15(1), 155–159.

Pavela Banai, I., et al. (2016). Vocal characteristics of presidential candidates can predict the outcome of actual elections, Evolution and Human Behavior.

Todorov, A., Mandisodza, A. N., Goren, A., & Hall, C. C. (2005). Inferences of competence from faces predict election outcomes. Science, 308, 1623–1626. 1126/science.1110589.


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