13 January 2021
Human voice pitch is highly sexually dimorphic and eminently quantifiable, making it an ideal phenotype for studying the influence of sexual selection. In both traditional and industrial populations, lower pitch in men predicts mating success, reproductive success, and social status and shapes social perceptions, especially those related to physical formidability. Due to practical and ethical constraints however, scant evidence tests the central question of whether male voice pitch and other acoustic measures indicate actual fighting ability in humans. To address this, we examined pitch, pitch variability, and formant position of 475 mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters from an elite fighting league, with each fighter’s acoustic measures assessed from multiple voice recordings extracted from audio or video interviews available online (YouTube, Google Video, podcasts), totaling 1312 voice recording samples. In four regression models each predicting a separate measure of fighting ability (win percentages, number of fights, Elo ratings, and retirement status), no acoustic measure significantly predicted fighting ability above and beyond covariates. However, after fight statistics, fight history, height, weight, and age were used to extract underlying dimensions of fighting ability via factor analysis, pitch and formant position negatively predicted “Fighting Experience” and “Size” factor scores in a multivariate regression model, explaining 3–8% of the variance. Our findings suggest that lower male pitch and formants may be valid cues of some components of fighting ability in men.