Cognitive mechanisms for recognizing high quality sexual rivals should facilitate the economical allocation of mating effort. Women compete to attract male investment, and previous studies have shown that feminine voices are attractive to men. Here, we manipulated two sexually dimorphic acoustic parameters in women's voices, fundamental frequency and formant dispersion, by the same perceptual amounts and explored the effects on attractiveness to heterosexual men in short- and long-term mating contexts. Femininity in both acoustic parameters was more attractive to men, especially in short-term mating contexts, and formant dispersion had a larger effect than did fundamental frequency. We then explored the effects of these manipulations on women's perceptions of other women's flirtatiousness and attractiveness to men. Feminine voices were perceived as more flirtatious and more attractive to men, and women were most sensitive to formant dispersion, the acoustic parameter that had the stronger effect on men's preferences. These results support the interpretation that women use vocal femininity to track the threat potential of competitors.
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