The Expression and Recognition of Emotions in the Voice Across Five Nations: A Lens Model Analysis Based on Acoustic Features

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Abstract

This study extends previous work on emotion communication across cultures with a large-scale investigation of the physical expression cues in vocal tone. In doing so, it provides the first direct test of a key proposition of dialect theory, namely that greater accuracy of detecting emotions from one’s own cultural group—known as in-group advantage—results from a match between culturally specific schemas in emotional expression style and culturally specific schemas in emotion recognition. Study 1 used stimuli from 100 professional actors from five English-speaking nations vocally conveying 11 emotional states (anger, contempt, fear, happiness, interest, lust, neutral, pride, relief, sadness, and shame) using standard-content sentences. Detailed acoustic analyses showed many similarities across groups, and yet also systematic group differences. This provides evidence for cultural accents in expressive style at the level of acoustic cues. In Study 2, listeners evaluated these expressions in a 5 × 5 design balanced across groups. Cross-cultural accuracy was greater than expected by chance. However, there was also in-group advantage, which varied across emotions. A lens model analysis of fundamental acoustic properties examined patterns in emotional expression and perception within and across groups. Acoustic cues were used relatively similarly across groups both to produce and judge emotions, and yet there were also subtle cultural differences. Speakers appear to have a culturally nuanced schema for enacting vocal tones via acoustic cues, and perceivers have a culturally nuanced schema in judging them. Consistent with dialect theory’s prediction, in-group judgments showed a greater match between these schemas used for emotional expression and perception.

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