Voice, as a secondary sexual characteristic, is known to affect the perceived attractiveness of human individuals. But the underlying mechanism of vocal attractiveness has remained unclear. Here, we presented human listeners with acoustically altered natural sentences and fully synthetic sentences with systematically manipulated pitch, formants and voice quality based on a principle of body size projection reported for animal calls and emotional human vocal expressions. The results show that male listeners preferred a female voice that signals a small body size, with relatively high pitch, wide formant dispersion and breathy voice, while female listeners preferred a male voice that signals a large body size with low pitch and narrow formant dispersion. Interestingly, however, male vocal attractiveness was also enhanced by breathiness, which presumably softened the aggressiveness associated with a large body size. These results, together with the additional finding that the same vocal dimensions also affect emotion judgment, indicate that humans still employ a vocal interaction strategy used in animal calls despite the development of complex language. Copyright © 2013 Xu et al.