Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Sighs Matters

’Map’ created from interpretations of nonverbal sounds helps investigate how emotions are perceived

13 March 2019

Sighs Matters

From groans of anguish, to sighs of delight, we use nonverbal sounds to communicate feelings, creating cheerful “ah-ha” moments across language barriers. This interactive map shows thousands of 'vocal bursts', grouped by listeners into 24 different regions of emotion, revealing a surprising range of feelings hidden in our grunts and groans. Running a mouse pointer over the screen, you might hear a supportive “ahh”, a confused “huh?” or a chuckle of embarrassment. Most interesting, perhaps, are the sounds which blur these boundaries – surprise can be positive or negative, its tell-tale gasps close to both fear and awe. Many of these sounds may be subjective, with different listeners hearing different emotions based on past experiences. Similar maps could help doctors and researchers to investigate emotional perception in people with conditions like dementia and autism.

Written by John Ankers

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