★ Tone of voice (prosody) encompasses changes in pitch, amplitude and timing. ★ Prosody can convey varied informational cues, including attitudes. ★ Attitudinal prosody can affect us in everyday conversations. ★ Decoding attitudinal prosody likely involves right hemisphere, limbic system and subcortical regions.
Prosodic aspects of speech such as pitch, duration and amplitude constitute nonverbal cues that supplement or modify the meaning of the spoken word, to provide valuable clues as to a speakers’ state of mind. It can thus indicate what emotion a person is feeling (emotional prosody), or their attitude towards an event, person or object (attitudinal prosody). Whilst the study of emotional prosody has gathered pace, attitudinal prosody now deserves equal attention. In social cognition, understanding attitudinal prosody is important in its own right, since it can convey powerful constructs such as confidence, persuasion, sarcasm and superiority. In this review, it is examined what prosody is, how it conveys attitudes, and which attitudes prosody can convey. The review finishes by considering the neuroanatomy associated with attitudinal prosody, and put forward the hypothesis that this cognition is mediated by the right cerebral hemisphere, particularly posterior superior lateral temporal cortex, with an additional role for the basal ganglia, and limbic regions such as the medial prefrontal cortex and amygdala. It is suggested that further exploration of its functional neuroanatomy is greatly needed, since it could provide valuable clues about the value of current prosody nomenclature and its separability from other types of prosody at the behavioural level.