03 January 2020

Nonverbal Exclamation Emotions

Happy 2020! And welcome back. I hope you won’t mind if I review a study published about a year ago. It’s not that I just found the study. Well, it is, sort of. The study was buried on my list of possible blog topics. I noticed it while deleting files to prepare for the new year, and I think it’s an ideal kickoff for 2020.

One of the more pleasant
nonverbal exclamations.
The topic is nonverbal exclamations, such as ohhh or oops. They communicate feelings that can be understood immediately. They are essential to recognizing emotion from vocalizations.

A team of researchers, affiliated with the University of California, Berkeley, Washington University in St. Louis and Sweden’s Stockholm University, set out to better define the relationship between these vocal bursts and emotions. For example, how many distinct kinds of emotions can be expressed? Is the recognition of emotion expressions discrete or continuous?

Collection and Initial Assessment of Vocalizations
The researchers recorded 2,032 vocal bursts by 56 male and female professional actors and non-actors from the U.S., India, Kenya and Singapore responding to emotionally evocative scenarios.

They then had more than 1,000 adults (via Amazon's Mechanical Turk) listen to and evaluate the vocal bursts for the emotions and meaning they conveyed, whether the tone was positive or negative and other characteristics.

Statistical analysis placed the vocal bursts into at least two dozen categories, including amusement, anger, awe, confusion, contempt, contentment, desire, disappointment, disgust, distress, ecstasy, elation, embarrassment, fear, interest, pain, realization, relief, sadness, surprise (positive) surprise (negative), sympathy and triumph.

Providing Contexts for Vocal Bursts
The researchers sampled YouTube video clips that evoked the 24 emotions. Vocal bursts extracted from videos (e.g., puppies being hugged, spellbinding magic tricks) were judged by 88 adults and categorized into 24 shades of emotion.

Here’s the best part. They organized all of the data into a natural language semantic space in the form of an online interactive audio map (see P.S. or figure captions for link).

Graphical depiction of online interactive audio map of emotions conveyed by nonverbal exclamations (from www.alancowen.com/vocs).
Enlarged view of top-left section of online interactive audio map; various colored spots provide audio of the gradient mix of emotions (from www.alancowen.com/vocs).
You slide your cursor over any of the categories of emotion and hear the exclamations--surprise (gasp), realization (ohhh), fear (scream). Then you find the categories are linked by gradients with continuously varying meaning. In the map’s embarrassment region, you might find a vocalization recognized as a mix of amusement, embarrassment and positive surprise.

Wrap Up
The researchers suggest that, along with linguistics applications, the map should be useful in helping teach voice-controlled digital assistants and robots to recognize human emotions based on sounds. Another possible application would be helping to identify specific emotion-related deficits in people with dementia, autism or other emotional processing disorders.

The only problem I find is the relative difficulty of examining the map on a smartphone or even a tablet rather than a laptop or desktop computer. Maybe it’s just my devices. I hope you’ll manage; it’s really cool. Thanks for stopping by.

Study of emotions conveyed by nonverbal vocalizations in American Psychologist journal: psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Famp0000399
Article on study on ScienceDaily website: www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190205144343.htm

Interactive audio map of emotions conveyed by nonverbal vocalizations: www.alancowen.com/vocs
The interactive audio map is also included in the UC Berkeley press release: news.berkeley.edu/2019/02/04/audio-map-of-exclamations/

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