Why ‘grrr’ and ‘argh’ say it best
It takes just one-tenth of a second for our brains to begin to recognize emotions conveyed by vocal sounds—no matter if the sounds are growls of anger, peals of laughter, or cries of sadness.
Further, we pay more attention when an emotion is expressed through vocalizations than we do when the same emotion is expressed in speech.
The speed with which the brain “tags” vocal sounds and the preference given to them compared to language is due to the potentially crucial role that decoding vocal sounds has played in human survival, researchers say.
“The identification of emotional vocalizations depends on systems in the brain that are older in evolutionary terms,” says Marc Pell, Director of the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders at McGill University. “Understanding emotions expressed in spoken language, on the other hand, involves more recent brain systems that have evolved as human language developed.”
The researchers were interested in finding out whether the brain responded differently when emotions were expressed through vocalizations (sounds such as growls, laughter, or sobbing, where no words are used) or through language.
They focused on three basic emotions: anger, sadness, and happiness and tested 24 participants by playing a random mix of vocalizations and nonsense speech—”He placktered the tozz”—spoken with different emotional intent. The researchers used nonsense phrases in order to avoid any linguistic cues about emotions.
They were able to measure:
- How the brain responds to emotions expressed through vocalizations compared to spoken language with millisecond precision.
- Whether certain emotions are recognized more quickly through vocalizations than others and produce larger brain responses.
The researchers found that the participants were able to detect vocalizations of happiness (i.e., laughter) more quickly than vocal sounds conveying either anger or sadness. But, interestingly, they found that angry sounds and angry speech both produced ongoing brain activity that lasted longer than either of the other emotions, suggesting that the brain pays special attention to the importance of anger signals....MORE
- Whether people who are anxious are particularly sensitive to emotional voices based on the strength of their brain response.