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Emotion processing in the auditory modality : the time course and development of emotional prosody recognition


The studies in this dissertation investigated the recognition of emotional prosody in adults and children. Findings in the visual modality suggest a processing advantage for emotional stimuli, presumably due to their salience and survival value. However, there is limited research on this phenomenon in the auditory emotion processing literature, and findings are mixed. The studies presented here were designed to test for a potential advantage in recognizing emotional compared to neutral prosody via a gating paradigm, in which utterances spoken in emotional or neutral intonation were spliced into successively building segments, or gates, that provided increasingly more stimulus information. Chapter 2 presents two experiments: In Experiment 1, participants heard gated versions of sentences conveying happy, angry, and neutral emotion. After each gate, they indicated the emotion conveyed and rated their confidence in that decision. Measures of interest included accuracy, the number of gates necessary for accurate recognition, error patterns, and confidence. Contrary to hypotheses based on visual emotion processing, results indicated faster and more accurate recognition of neutral compared to emotional prosody, as well as error patterns and confidence ratings that suggested a bias for recognizing neutral prosody. To rule out a potential confound resulting from the number and nature of stimulus categories in Experiment 1, half of the participants in Experiment 2 discriminated happy from neutral prosody and half discriminated angry from neutral prosody. Results replicated those of Experiment 1: recognition speed and accuracy favored neutral prosody. Chapter 3 presents a study comparing children's and adults' recognition of happy, angry, and neutral prosody. Results indicated that children's recognition was less accurate and slower than adults', but improves with age. Across age groups, neutral prosody was identified faster than emotional prosody. Accuracy and error patterns demonstrated a bias for neutral prosody in young girls and adult women; however, young boys showed a bias for recognizing happy prosody, whereas adult males showed a bias for angry prosody. Taken together, results from the studies in this dissertation suggest that emotion-related processing biases may differ between visual and auditory modalities, and that biases for emotional prosody are modulated by age and gender

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