Emotional Pre-eminence of Human Vocalizations

Aeschlimann, Mélanie ; Knebel, Jean-François ; Murray, Micah ; Clarke, Stephanie

In: Brain Topography, 2008, vol. 20, no. 4, p. 239-248

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    Human vocalizations (HV), as well as environmental sounds, convey a wide range of information, including emotional expressions. The latter have been relatively rarely investigated, and, in particular, it is unclear if duration-controlled non-linguistic HV sequences can reliably convey both positive and negative emotional information. The aims of the present psychophysical study were: (i) to generate a battery of duration-controlled and acoustically controlled extreme valence stimuli, and (ii) to compare the emotional impact of HV with that of other environmental sounds. A set of 144HV and other environmental sounds was selected to cover emotionally positive, negative, and neutral values. Sequences of 2s duration were rated on Likert scales by 16 listeners along three emotional dimensions (arousal, intensity, and valence) and two non-emotional dimensions (confidence in identifying the sound source and perceived loudness). The 2s stimuli were reliably perceived as emotionally positive, negative or neutral. We observed a linear relationship between intensity and arousal ratings and a "boomerang-shaped” intensity-valence distribution, as previously reported for longer, duration-variable stimuli. In addition, the emotional intensity ratings for HV were higher than for other environmental sounds, suggesting that HV constitute a characteristic class of emotional auditory stimuli. In addition, emotionally positive HV were more readily identified than other sounds, and emotionally negative stimuli, irrespective of their source, were perceived as louder than their positive and neutral counterparts. In conclusion, HV are a distinct emotional category of environmental sounds and they retain this emotional pre-eminence even when presented for brief periods