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Cross-cultural communication of emotional non-speech sounds

Try to remember the last time that you inferred that another person was in an emotional state of mind – chances are that it was the sounds that he or she made that provided the clues. Emotional sounds (such as crying, hums, laughter, and sighs) are often considered an especially primitive form of emotional that in many ways resembles animal expressions more than human speech. But, this intriguing form of emotional signaling has received little attention from researchers.

Now an international research team directed by from investigated how well emotional non-speech vocalizations could be recognized by listeners across cultures. Results showed that Swedish individuals could recognize a wide range of emotions with accuracy well above chance even when the sounds were produced by individuals from different continents (India, Kenya, Singapore, and USA). For , the highest recognition rates were observed for relief, sexual lust, interest, serenity and positive surprise – whereas anger, disgust, fear, sadness, and negative surprise received the highest recognition rates for negative emotions.

These results show that the voice provides a rich and nuanced source of emotional information that can be universally recognized across cultures. In addition, the range of positive emotions conveyed by the voice seems to be particularly wide in comparison to what has previously been shown for other non-verbal communication channels such as facial expressions, the authors say.


Laukka P, Elfenbein HA, Söder N, Nordström H, Althoff J, Chui W, Iraki FK, Rockstuhl T and Thingujam NS (2013) Cross-cultural decoding of positive and negative nonlinguistic emotion vocalizations. Front. Psychol. 4:353. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00353

Frontiers in Psychology