This story is from the category The Brain
Date posted: 15/05/2009
By observing the pattern of activity in the brain, scientists have discovered they can "read" whether a person just heard words spoken in anger, joy, relief, or sadness. The discovery, reported online on May 14th in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, is the first to show that emotional information is represented by distinct spatial signatures in the brain that can be generalized across speakers.
"Correct interpretation of emotion in the voice is highly important ? especially in a modern environment where visual emotional signals are often not available," for instance, when people talk on the phone, said Thomas Ethofer of the University of Geneva, Switzerland. "We demonstrated that the spatial pattern of activity within the brain area that processes human voices contains information about the expressed emotion."
Previous neuroimaging studies showed that voice-sensitive auditory areas activate to a broad spectrum of vocally expressed emotions more than to neutral speech melody, the researchers explained. However, this enhanced response occurs irrespective of the specific category of emotion, making it impossible to distinguish different vocal emotions with conventional analyses.
In the new study, the researchers presented people with pseudowords spoken in five ways ? with anger, sadness, relief, joy, or no emotion ? while their brains were scanned with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). They then analyzed the overall spatial pattern of activity in the auditory cortex by using a method called multivariate pattern analysis.
"While conventional methods analyze each point in the brain separately, we looked at the overall pattern," Ethofer explained. "Consider the following analogy: If you have a puzzle consisting of black and white pieces, it is hard to say whether they belong to a picture of a zebra or a checkerboard if you look at each piece in isolation, but it becomes relatively easy if you put the pieces together."
Indeed, their analysis showed that they could classify each emotion against all other alternatives.
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