Human emotions track changes in the acoustic environment

Weiyi Ma*, William Forde Thompson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

20 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Emotional responses to biologically significant events are essential for human survival. Do human emotions lawfully track changes in the acoustic environment? Here we report that changes in acoustic attributes that are well known to interact with human emotions in speech and music also trigger systematic emotional responses when they occur in environmental sounds, including sounds of human actions, animal calls, machinery, or natural phenomena, such as wind and rain. Three changes in acoustic attributes known to signal emotional states in speech and music were imposed upon 24 environmental sounds. Evaluations of stimuli indicated that human emotions track such changes in environmental sounds just as they do for speech and music. Such changes not only influenced evaluations of the sounds themselves, they also affected the way accompanying facial expressions were interpreted emotionally. The findings illustrate that human emotions are highly attuned to changes in the acoustic environment, and reignite a discussion of Charles Darwin's hypothesis that speech and music originated from a common emotional signal system based on the imitation and modification of environmental sounds.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14563-14568
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume112
Issue number47
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 24 Nov 2015

Keywords

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Emotions
  • Environment
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Music
  • Reaction Time
  • Sound
  • Speech

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