Expression of gender and sexual orientation in the human voice: is there such thing as a gender code?

We are investigating the respective contribution of bio-hormonal factors, behavioural strategies and stereotypes in explaining the acoustic diversity of the vocal expression of gender in humans.

Existing research has highlighted acoustic and perceptual differences between male and female voices, where females are known to have a voice characterised by a higher pitch (F0), higher vocal tract resonances (or “formants”) and a more variable intonation, with the consequence that male voices are generally perceived to be deeper and more resonant than female voices. Although in adult subjects the sexual dimorphism in body size and vocal fold length generate gender differences in voice, acoustic data and anecdotal evidence suggest that behavioural factors are also involved in the expression of gender identity.

Such behavioural factors are particularly evident in children, where the virtual absence of anatomical differences between the two sexes until the pubertal stage cannot account for the observed variation in voice quality. Also, in heterosexual and homosexual adults, gender-related vocal differences are clearly accentuated or downplayed by manipulating specific gender-related paralinguistic cues, suggesting that acquired behaviours also play an important role in vocal gender signalling in order to project the desired gender identity.

Here we propose to investigate the contribution of behavioural factors to the expression of gender in children and adult heterosexual and homosexual voices. Following John Ohala’s (1984) “frequency code”, or “size code”, theory, we propose that there is a “gender code”. More specifically, we make the assumption that a substantial proportion of gender-related vocal diversity in the human voice is generated by acquired vocal gestures enabling the conventionalised use of primary vocal indices to anatomical sexual dimorphism.


Valentina Cartei (Dphil)

David Reby (PI / Supervisor)

Wind Cowles (U. Florida Collaborator)

Robin Banergee (Sussex Collaborator)

Jessica Horst (Sussex Collaborator)


Ohala J. J. (1984). An ethological perspective on common cross - language utilization of F0 of voice.  Phonetica, 41(1), 1-16.

School of Psychology