Sounds used by us such as Woho, ahhh and opps convey at least 24 types of emotion from embarrassment to elation. Scientists at the University of California (UC), Berkeley in the US conducted a statistical analysis of listener responses to more than 2,000 non-verbal exclamations known as “vocal bursts” and found they convey a lot more about what we are feeling than previously thought. Previous studies of vocal bursts set the number of recognisable emotions closer to 13. The results, published in the American Psychologist journal, are demonstrated in vivid sound and colour on the first-ever interactive audio map of nonverbal vocal communication developed by researchers.
This study is the most extensive demonstration of our rich emotional vocal repertoire, involving brief signals up to a dozen emotions such as awe, adoration, interest, sympathy and embarrassment. For millions of years, humans have used wordless vocalisations to communicate feelings that can be decoded in a matter of seconds. The findings show that the voice is a much more powerful tool for expressing emotion than before. In the audio map, a user can slide one’s cursor across the emotional topography and hover over fear (scream), then surprise (gasp), then awe (woah), realisation (ohhh), interest (ah?) and finally confusion (huh?).
Among other applications, the map can be used to help teach voice-controlled digital assistants and other robotic devices to better recognise human emotions based on the sounds we make. Researchers recorded more than 2,000 vocal bursts from 56 male and female professional actors and non-actors from the US, India, Kenya and Singapore by asking them to respond to emotionally evocative scenarios. These results show that emotional expressions colour our social interactions with spirited declarations of our inner feelings that are difficult to fake and that our friends, co-workers, and loved ones rely on to decipher our true commitments