On January 19th, 2016 we learned about

Brains process spoken words slower than emotional sob or shouts

Does style trump substance? Your brain seems to think so, at least when it comes to sounds from your fellow humans. Communication often involves many layers of inputs, including body language, eye contact, tone of voice, etc., all of which may or may not support the exact words someone is saying. As far as our understanding goes, words take a back seat to the emotional inflection of a speakers voice. In fact, vocalizing emotion without words may be the fastest and most impactful way to get through to a listener.

While a strong reaction to the sound of a person yelling is anecdotally familiar to many people, researchers relied on electroencephalography (EEG) for precise measurements of test subjects’ brains when listening to different sounds. Monitoring electrical activity found that the emotional content of a sound can be perceived by our brain in as little as 10 milliseconds, before any verbal information can be completely spoken, much less parsed by our language centers. Further comparison found that the use of spoken language in the vocalization actually reduced slowed recognition, with raw vocalizations like growling or sobbing being more immediately processed.

When there’s no time to talk

The scope of the study limited the sounds tested to expressions of happiness, sadness, or anger. Happiness was understood more quickly than the others, but anger created a longer response in the listener’s brain. With many animals engaging in forms of alarm calls to warn their kin of pending danger, it might be possible that anger demands extra attention in case it can warn of conflict and danger to the listener. Accordingly, listeners that were already nervous and anxious were even faster at detecting emotional content of vocalizations, which might be further evidence of emotional communication’s connections to social animals keeping each other informed and safe.

Source: Human sounds convey emotions clearer and faster than words, Scienmag

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