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Sound Emotions

Scott LaFee on

Eyes may be windows to the soul, but if you really want to know how someone else is feeling, Yale University scientists suggest closing your eyes and listening. They say tone of voice may be a better indicator of figuring out others' emotions than looking at facial expressions or body language.

The researchers conducted a series of published experiments. In one, they recruited participants online and showed them short videos of a group of friends talking and teasing each other over a nickname. Participants watched one of three versions: one group watched and listened to the video, a second heard only the audio and a third saw only the video -- no sound.

Then they were asked to discern what emotions they thought the friends displayed, rating feelings like amusement, embarrassment or happiness on a scale of 0 to 8. Participants who only heard the interaction -- but did not watch the video -- made more accurate estimates.

One reason may be that the voice alone is capable of conveying enormous emotion, said researchers. Another may be that when confronted by multiple modes of communication, our brains get confused and simply miss important cues.

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