Brain Recognizes Emotions Faster in Non-Speech Human Sounds

November 14, 2016

Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article. 

1. grunt / grʌnt / (n.) – a rough sound that usually expresses something negative
Example: Researchers recorded grunts from athletes.

2. intent 
/ ɪnˈtɛnt / (n.) – purpose
Example: The original intent of the researchers for conducting the study was to prove that laughing has health benefits.

3. nonsensical / nɒnˈsɛn sɪ kəl / (adj.) – having no meaning
Example: She uttered some nonsensical words while she was sleeping.

4. decode / diˈkoʊd / (v.) – to figure out and discover the meaning of something 
Example: The head researcher asked his assistant to decode the ancient writings of the tribe.

5. delve / dɛlv / (v.) – to do in-depth research
Example: We need to delve into the benefits of crying.


Read the text below.
Researchers have found that the brain recognizes emotions faster through emotional vocalizations, such as grunts, cries, or laughter, than through speech.

The research was led by Professor Marc Pell from the McGill School of Communication Sciences and Disorders. He has done various studies on nonverbal communication and the diseases that affect communication. In his most recent work, he analyzed the brain’s response to emotions expressed through vocalizations and through speech or words.

Pell’s team asked 24 participants to listen to two sets of four-second recordings and to determine the emotional intent of each one. One set of recordings was made up of nonsensical words spoken with emotional intent. The researchers used nonsensical words to prevent participants from recognizing the emotional intent based on word meaning. The other set of recordings was made up of vocalizations or sounds.

The researchers then asked the participants to identify whether the recording conveyed happiness, sadness, or anger. They also checked the electrical activity of the participants’ brains to see how quickly they responded. Results showed that the participants recognized the emotional intent far quicker through vocalizations than through speech.

According to Pell, the reason behind this result is that vocalizations are decoded through an older brain system that responds to basic emotions. This part of the brain has been used way before language developed. Meanwhile, speech is recognized in a part of the brain that has only evolved recently in humans.

The research team now plans to delve into the interpretation of vocalization and emotional speech across different cultures. They also plan to study the extent in which the interpretation of sounds can be learned. 

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.  

Discussion A

·         Apart from speech and vocalization, how else can emotions be expressed?
·         What expresses emotional intent most accurately (e.g. vocalization, speech, facial expression, etc.)? Explain.

Discussion B

·         What human emotion would you like to study about? Why?
·         Do you think that it is important to express emotions? Why or why not?

November 14, 2016