Hearing emotion in voices — our study of the Himba

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Chapter 3 endnote 15, from How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett.
Some context is:

Maria also asked another group of Himba subjects to freely label the vocal sounds, without accompanying stories, and again, only the laughing sounds were categorized as expected (although they labeled the sounds as “laughing” rather than “happy”).

Our Himba test subjects listened to vocalizations that Westerners perceive as anger, disgust, relief, sadness, sensory pleasure, surprise, and pride, and categorized none of them “correctly,” where a correct answer was prescribed by the presumed universal solution (agreement was no greater than zero).[1] Himba subjects did label screams with higher agreement than zero, but no better than what would be expected by chance. Only amusement vocalizations had high agreement (around 80%, about the same as U.S. test subjects), a result that’s consistent with the pile of smiling faces in our other study.[2] And once again, Himba test subjects used behavioral labels, where U.S. subjects used feeling labels. All in all, we saw no evidence of emotion universality.


Notes on the Notes

  1. Gendron, Maria, Debi Roberson, Jacoba Marieta van der Vyver, and Lisa Feldman Barrett. 2014. “Cultural Relativity in Perceiving Emotion from Vocalizations.” Psychological Science 25 (4): 911–920. 
  2. Gendron, Maria, Debi Roberson, Jacoba Marieta van der Vyver, and Lisa Feldman Barrett. 2014. "Perceptions of emotion from facial expressions are not universal: Evidence from a remote culture." Emotion 14 (2): 251-262.