Monday, May 18, 2009

Seeing emotion through speech

Can your jurors see a witness' emotional state just by hearing them speak? According to scientists, they can, by observing brain activity, determine whether a person heard words spoken in anger, sadness, joy or relief.

A new study published in the journal Current Biology, posits that our brains are able to represent emotional information in speech by distinct spatial signatures. According to Dr. Thomas Ethofer of the University of Geneva (Switzerland), past studies focused on each point in the brain separately while this new study, using a technique known as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), looked at the brain as a whole.
"Correct interpretation of emotion in the voice is highly important - especially in a modern environment where visual emotional signals are often not available. We demonstrated that the spatial pattern of activity within the brain area that processes human voices contains information about the expressed emotion." -- Dr. Thomas Ethofer.
Subjects listened to pseudowords spoken with five different emotions - anger, sadness, relief, joy and no emotion. Researchers scanned their brains using fMRI and then analyzed the overall spatial pattern in the brain's auditory cortex by use of multivariate pattern analysis.

Researchers claim they can classify each emotion against all other alternatives using these methods and say this type of analysis can help determine where these functions go wrong with those people diagnosed with pyschiatric disorders.

A special thanks to Dennis C. Elias, Ph.D. (@JuryVox on Twitter).

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