Can musicians hear more emotions in your voice?

Do you know someone who struggles to hear the emotions in speech?

Imagine a situation where two friends meet a third friend for lunch. The two friends come away from the lunch date, and one says, “well, she seems like she is doing very well” while the other says, “she sounded so defeated by her current situation, I’m really worried about her”. One would presume the two friends heard the third friend say the same words, but the underlying emotions in her speech, called speech prosody, told a different story. The interesting part is that the two friends interpreted her speech prosody differently, not the third friend repeating the same speech in two different ways.

The skills of “hearing” prosody in speech are fundamentally musical. It is the melody and rhythm of their speech, mixed in with the facial and physical expressions that went along with the speech, that our brains use to interpret emotions in speech. Some people seem to be able to pick up these musical elements better than others.

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In this study, the researchers look to see if music training has an impact on identifying emotions in speech. They compared three groups of participants; musically trained people, people who had high musical perception abilities but were not musically trained, and people who were non-musical, meaning they had not learned music and did not score highly on the musical perception test.

The results? Well, music training “was associated positively with emotion recognition across tasks, but the effect was small.” More interesting participants with high musical perception were found to be able to perceive emotions in speech better than non-musically trained or musically perceptive participants. So it is indeed the ability to perceive musical sounds, whether developed through formal training or natural predispositions and informal musical experience, that assists with perceiving emotions and prosody in speech.

Here is the big question, can a person with low music perception but significant music training improve their perception of emotions in speech? Stay tuned!

Read more here

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