In a Nervous Voice: Acoustic Analysis and Perception of Anxiety in Social Phobics' Speech

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Abstract

This study investigated the effects of anxiety on nonverbal aspects of speech using data collected in the framework of a large study of social phobia treatment. The speech of social phobics (N = 71) was recorded during an anxiogenic public speaking task both before and after treatment. The speech samples were analyzed with respect to various acoustic parameters related to pitch, loudness, voice quality, and temporal aspects of speech. The samples were further content-masked by low-pass filtering (which obscures the linguistic content of the speech but preserves nonverbal affective cues) and subjected to listening tests. Results showed that a decrease in experienced state anxiety after treatment was accompanied by corresponding decreases in (a) several acoustic parameters (i.e., mean and maximum voice pitch, high-frequency components in the energy spectrum, and proportion of silent pauses), and (b) listeners' perceived level of nervousness. Both speakers' self-ratings of state anxiety and listeners' ratings of perceived nervousness were further correlated with similar acoustic parameters. The results complement earlier studies on vocal affect expression which have been conducted on posed, rather than authentic, emotional speech.

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