Please wait a minute...
Acta Psychologica Sinica    2019, Vol. 51 Issue (4) : 462-470     DOI: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2019.00462
Reports of Empirical Studies |
Early preference for positive over negative prosody in neonates: Evidence based on event-related potentials
ZHANG Dandan1,2,CHEN Yu1,AO Xiang1,SUN Guoyu3,LIU Lili3,HOU Xinlin3,CHEN Yuming1()
1 College of Psychology and Sociology, Shenzhen University, Shenzhen 518060, China
2 Shenzhen Key Laboratory of Affective and Social Cognitive Science, Shenzhen University, Shenzhen 518060, China
3 Department of Pediatrics, Peking University First Hospital, Beijing 100034, China
Download: PDF(1425 KB)   HTML Review File (1 KB) 
Export: BibTeX | EndNote | Reference Manager | ProCite | RefWorks     Supporting Info

Our ability to process emotional prosody, that is the emotional tone of a speaker, is fundamental to human communication and adaptive behaviours. Very early in development, vocal emotional cues are more critical than facial expressions in guiding infants' behavior. However, the processing of emotional prosody in the very early days of life is still far from clearly understood. It is unclear whether the discrimination between prosodies with different emotional categories is present at birth. Furthermore, it is unknown whether there is a preferential orientation (negativity bias versus positivity preference) in neonates.

Here, we used event-related potentials (ERPs) to examine the ability of neonates (from 1 to 6 days old) to discriminate different types of emotions conveyed by speech prosody. The experiment was conducted in the neonatal ward of Peking University First Hospital, Beijing, China. Electroencephalogram recording was carried out when the infants were in a state of active sleep. Using an oddball paradigm, the current study investigated the neural correlates underlying automatic processing of emotional voices of happiness, fear and anger in 18 (Experiment 1) and 29 (Experiment 2) sleeping neonates. In Experiment 1, each category of emotional prosody (20%) was separately mixed into emotionally neutral prosody (80%), forming three blocks with different emotions. In Experiment 2, we not only repeated the procedure of Experiment 1, but also reversed the standard and deviation stimuli in the odd-ball task.

Event-related potential data showed that the frontal scalp distribution (F3 and F4) of the neonatal brain could discriminate happy voices from both angry and fearful voices; the mismatch response (MMR) was larger in response to the deviant stimuli of happiness, compared with the deviant stimuli of anger and fear. However, the latter two stimuli, i.e., angry and fearful voices could not be differentiated. The MMR amplitudes at the other four electrodes, i.e., C3, C4, P3, and P4 did not show significant differences across emotional conditions. Note: the MMR is a prototype of the mismatch negativity, i.e. a preattentive component of the auditory ERP that shows a positive (MMR) or negative (MMN) displacement in response to deviant sounds compared to standard sounds in the oddball paradigm.

The neural responses recorded here indicate very early preference for positive over negative stimuli, which is contrary to the ‘negativity bias’ phenomenon established in the affective prosody literature of adult and infant studies. It is suggest that the range-frequency hypothesis could help to interpret the transformation from the ‘positivity preference’ during the first half year of life to the ‘negativity bias’ later in development. The present finding provides the first neuroelectrophysiological evidence for the hypothesis of positivity preference in neonatal participants. In addition, this special discrimination between positive and negative prosody in early life may provide a foundation for later emotion and social cognition development.

Keywords neonate      positivity preference      happy prosody      fearful prosody      angry prosody     
ZTFLH:  B844  
Corresponding Authors: Yuming CHEN     E-mail:
Issue Date: 22 February 2019
E-mail this article
E-mail Alert
Articles by authors
Dandan ZHANG
Xiang AO
Guoyu SUN
Lili LIU
Xinlin HOU
Yuming CHEN
Cite this article:   
Dandan ZHANG,Yu CHEN,Xiang AO, et al. Early preference for positive over negative prosody in neonates: Evidence based on event-related potentials[J]. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 2019, 51(4): 462-470.
URL:     OR
[1] Arimitsu T., Uchida-Ota M., Yagihashi T., Kojima S., Watanabe S., Hokuto I., … Minagawa-Kawai Y . ( 2011). Functional hemispheric specialization in processing phonemic and prosodic auditory changes in neonates. Frontiers in Psychology, 2, 202.
pmid: 3173826 url:
[2] Belin P., Fecteau S., & Bédard C . ( 2004). Thinking the voice: Neural correlates of voice perception. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 8( 3), 129-135.
pmid: 15301753 url:
[3] Belin P., Zatorre R.J., Lafaille P., Ahad P., & Pike B . ( 2000). Voice-selective areas in human auditory cortex. Nature, 403(6767), 309-312.
pmid: 10659849 url:
[4] Brük C., Kreifelts B., & Wildgruber D . ( 2011). Emotional voices in context: A neurobiologicalmodel of multimodal affective information processing. Physics of Life Reviews, 8( 4), 383-403.
pmid: 22035772 url:
[5] Cheng Y.W., Lee S. Y., Chen H. Y., Wang P. Y., & Decety J . ( 2012). Voice and emotion processing in the human neonatal brain. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 24( 6), 1411-1419.
pmid: 22360593 url:
[6] Cooper R. P., & Aslin R. N, . ( 1990). Preference for infant-directed speech in the first month after birth. Child Development, 61( 5), 1584-1595.
pmid: 2245748 url:
[7] DeCasper A. J., & Fifer W. P, . ( 1980). Of human bonding: Newborns prefer their mothers' voices. Science, 208( 4448), 1174-1176.
pmid: 7375928 url:
[8] Decety, J., & Howard L. H, . ( 2013). The role of affect in the neurodevelopment of morality. Child Development Perspectives, 7( 1), 49-54.
[9] Dehaene-Lambertz,G. ( 2000). Cerebral specialization for speech and non-speech stimuli in infants. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 12( 3), 449-460.
[10] Ethofer T., Bretscher J., Gschwind M., Kreifelts B., Wildgruber D., & Vuilleumier P . ( 2012). Emotional voice areas: Anatomic location, functional properties, and structural connections revealed by combined fMRI/DTI. Cerebral Cortex, 22( 1), 191-200
pmid: 21625012 url:
[11] Fan Y. T., Hsu Y. Y., & Cheng Y. W . ( 2013). Sex matters: n- back modulates emotional mismatch negativity. NeuroReport, 24( 9), 457-463.
[12] Farroni T., Menon E., Rigato S., & Johnson M. H . ( 2007). The perception of facial expressions in newborns. European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 4( 1), 2-13.
pmid: 2836746 url:
[13] Fernald,A. ( 1993). Approval and disapproval: Infant responsiveness to vocal affect in familiar and unfamiliar languages. Child Development, 64( 3), 657-674.
pmid: 8339687 url:
[14] Ferrari V., Bradley M. M., Codispoti M., & Lang P. J . ( 2010). Detecting novelty and significance. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 22( 2), 404-411.
[15] Flom, R., & Bahrick L. E, . ( 2007). The development of infant discrimination of affect in multimodal and unimodal stimulation: The role of intersensory redundancy. Developmental Psychology, 43( 1), 238-252.
pmid: 17201522 url:
[16] Flom, R., & Pick A. D, . ( 2012). Dynamics of infant habituation: Infants’ discrimination of musical excerpts. Infant Behavior and Development, 35( 4), 697-704.
pmid: 22982268 url:
[17] Friederici A. D., Friedrich M., & Weber C . ( 2002). Neural manifestation of cognitive and precognitive mismatch detection in early infancy. NeuroReport, 13( 10), 1251-1254.
pmid: 12151780 url:
[18] Frühholz S., & Grandjean D . ( 2013). Processing of emotional vocalizations in bilateral inferior frontal cortex. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 37( 10), 2847-2855.
pmid: 24161466 url:
[19] Grossmann,T. ( 2010). The development of emotion perception in face and voice during infancy. Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience, 28( 2), 219-236.
pmid: 20404410 url:
[20] Grossmann T., Striano T., & Friederici A. D . ( 2005). Infants' electric brain responses to emotional prosody. NeuroReport, 16( 16), 1825-1828.
[21] Grossmann T., Oberecker R., Koch S. P., Friederici A. D . ( 2010). The developmental origins of voice processing in the human brain. Neuron, 65( 6), 852-858.
pmid: 2852650 url:
[22] Háden G. P., Stefanics G., Vestergaard M. D., Denham S. L., Sziller I., & Winkler I . ( 2009). Timbre-independent extraction of pitch in newborn infants. Psychophysiology, 46( 1), 69-74.
pmid: 19055501 url:
[23] Hawk S. T., Van Kleef G. A., Fischer A. H.,& Van Der Schalk, J. , .( 2009). "Worth a thousand words": Absolute and relative decoding of nonlinguistic affect vocalizations. Emotion, 9( 3), 293-305.
pmid: 19485607 url:
[24] Hirasawa K., Kurihara M., & Konishi Y . ( 2002). The relationship between mismatch negativity and arousal level. Can mismatch negativity be an index for evaluating the arousal level in infants? Sleep Medicine, 3( S2), S45-S48.
pmid: 14592379 url:
[25] Hoehl, S., &Striano, T. ( 2010). The development of emotional face and eye gaze processing. Developmental Science, 13( 6), 813-825.
pmid: 20977553 url:
[26] Hung A. Y., Ahveninen J., & Cheng Y . ( 2013). Atypical mismatch negativity to distressful voices associated with conduct disorder symptoms. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 54( 9), 1016-1027.
pmid: 23701279 url:
[27] Ito T. A., Larsen J. T., Smith, N. K. &, Cacioppo, J. T. ( 1998). Negative information weighs more heavily on the brain: The negativity bias in evaluative categorizations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75( 4), 887-900.
pmid: 9825526 url:
[28] LaBarbera J. D., Izard C. E., Vietze P., & Parisi S. A . ( 1976). Four- and six-month-old infants’ visual response to joy, anger and neutral expressions. Child Development, 47( 2), 535-538.
pmid: 1269322 url:
[29] Lepp?nen P. H. T., Guttorm T. K., Pihko E., Takkinen S., Eklund K. M., & Lyytinen H . ( 2004). Maturational effects on newborn ERPs measured in the mismatch negativity paradigm. Experimental Neurology, 190( S1), S91-S101.
pmid: 15498547 url:
[30] Mastropieri, D., &Turkewitz, G. ( 1999). Prenatal experience and neonatal responsiveness to vocal expressions of emotion. Developmental Psychobiology, 35( 3), 204-214.
pmid: 10531533 url:<>1.0.CO;2-A
[31] N??t?nen R., Paavilainen P., Rinne T., & Alho K . ( 2007). The mismatch negativity (MMN) in basic research of central auditory processing: A review. Clinical Neurophysiology, 118( 12), 2544-2590.
pmid: 17931964 url:
[32] Parducci,G. ( 1995). Happiness, pleasure, and judgment: The contextual theory and its applications. Hillsdale, NJ, US: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
[33] Peltola M. J., Lepp?nen J. M., M?ki S., & Hietanen J. K . ( 2009). Emergence of enhanced attention to fearful faces between 5 and 7 months of age. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 4( 2), 134-142.
pmid: 2686224 url:
[34] Rigato, S., Farroni, T. & Johnson M. H, . ( 2010). The shared signal hypothesis and neural responses to expressions and gaze in infants and adults. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 5( 1), 88-97.
pmid: 19858107 url:
[35] Ruusuvirta T., Huotilainen M., Fellman V., & N??t?nen R . ( 2009). Numerical discrimination in newborn infants as revealed by event-related potentials to tone sequences. European Journal of Neuroscience, 30( 8), 1620-1624.
pmid: 19811535 url:
[36] Singh L., Morgan J. L., & Best C. T . ( 2002). Infants'listening preferences: Baby talk or happy talk? Infancy, 3( 3), 365-394.
[37] Saito Y., Aoyama S., Kondo T., Fukumoto R., Konishi N., Nakamura K., … Toshima T . ( 2007). Frontal cerebral blood flow change associated with infant-directed speech. Archives of Disease in Childhood. Fetal and Neonatal Edition, 92( 2), F113-F116.
pmid: 16905571 url:
[38] Saito Y., Fukuhara R., Aoyama S., & Toshima T . ( 2009). Frontal brain activation in premature infants' response to auditory stimuli in neonatal intensive care unit. Early Human Development, 85( 7), 471-474.
pmid: 19411147 url:
[39] Telkemeyer S., Rossi S., Koch S. P., Nierhaus T., Steinbrink J., Poeppel D., … Wartenburger l . ( 2009). Wartenburger, Sensitivity of newborn auditory cortex to the temporal structure of sounds. Journal of Neuroscience, 29( 47), 14726-14733.
pmid: 19940167 url:
[40] Vaish A., Grossmann T., & Woodward A . ( 2008). Not all emotions are created equal: The negativity bias in social- emotional development. Psychological Bulletin, 134( 3), 383-403.
pmid: 18444702 url:
[41] Vaish, A., &Striano, T. ( 2004). Is visual reference necessary? Contributions of facial versus vocal cues in 12-month-olds’ social referencing behavior. Developmental Science, 7( 3), 261-269.
pmid: 15595366 url:
[42] Winkler I., Kushnerenko E., Horváth J., ?eponien? R., Fellman V., Huotilainen M., … Sussman E . ( 2003). Newborn infants can organize the auditory world. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 100( 20), 11812-11815.
[43] Zhang D. D., Liu Y. Z., Hou X. L., Sun G. Y., Cheng Y. W., & Luo Y. J . ( 2014). Discrimination of fearful and angry emotional voices in sleeping human neonates: A study of the mismatch brain responses. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 8, 422.
pmid: 25538587 url:
[44] Zhang D. D., Liu Y. F., Hou X. L., Zhou, C. L, Luo, Y. J., Ye D. T., & Ding. H. Y . ( 2011). Reference values for amplitude-integrated EEGs in infants from preterm to 3.5 months of age. Pediatrics, 127( 5), e1280-e1287.
pmid: 21482614 url:
No related articles found!
Full text



Copyright © Acta Psychologica Sinica
Support by Beijing Magtech