Getting Emotional In Geneva

Ever noticed similarities between the way people sound when they express certain emotions and the way that music sounds? Research in the Department of Music is revealing the extent to which listeners use the same acoustic features to judge emotion expressed by music and by speech prosody.

Professor Nicola Dibben was an International Visiting Fellow at the Swiss Centre for Affective Sciences in Geneva in March, supported by an award from the Swiss National Science Foundation. The research project is revealing the extent to which listeners use the same acoustic features to judge emotion expressed by music and by speech prosody. Prior analysis of the results of a behavioural study and computational study had revealed five common acoustic cues (loudness, tempo and speech rate, melodic and prosodic contour, spectral centroid, and sharpness) and two features unique to each domain (spectral flux, in the case of music, and roughness, in the case of speech) (Coutinho & Dibben, 2012). During the research visit in March, Professor Dibben worked with Dr Eduardo Coutinho (Geneva) to analyse physiological data collected in Sheffield. The visit resulted in two new insights: it showed, for the first time, correspondences between continuous measures of emotion (valence and arousal) and physiological responses to excerpts of speech (poetry recitations, monologues from drama, comedy, documentaries) and film music; and it showed that self-reports of valence and emotion are minimally influenced by individual differences.

These findings are significant in that they support arguments that there is shared processing of music and speech, and provide a new method for investigating and implementing relationships between affect and psychoacoustic features. The intention is that these results can be incorporated into future computational models with applications for health and well-being: for example, the model could be used in software to analyse and select recorded music to navigate an ‘affective space’ – useful in therapeutic settings and informal music use of music as background to other activities.