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Humans instinctively perceive a phone caller’s body size and attractiveness from frequency and voice quality, despite the growing influence for thousands of years of complex language.

Research by scientists and colleagues at the University College of London, published in the open access journal Plos One, reveals that humans are similar to animals and birds in that they find deep male voices and high pitched female voices more attractive because listeners gauge the speaker’s body size from the sound.

In one experiment, 10 young male native English speakers heard a recorded female voice saying the sentence, “Good luck with the exams,” and were asked to rate its attractiveness.

The sentences were pre-recorded in three voice qualities and then digitally modified to signal a small body size and happiness, or large body size and anger. Female listeners heard a male voice that had been similarly altered to indicate a larger body size.

Researchers found that male listeners preferred female voices that correlated with a smaller body size, while females preferred to hear low-pitched male voices that suggested larger body size. The scientists were surprised to find that female listeners preferred male voices that are breathy. The findings back up research carried out in the animal kingdom