ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2012, Vol. 44 ›› Issue (11): 1472-1478.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2012.01472

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Preschoolers’ Perception of Vocal Emotion

WANG Yi-Fang;SU Yan-Jie;HE Qu-Zhi   

  1. (1 Department of Psychology, Learning and Cognitive Key lab, Capital Normal University, Beijing 100089, China) (2 Department of Psychology, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China)
  • Received:2011-10-21 Published:2012-11-28 Online:2012-11-01
  • Contact: SU Yan-Jie

Abstract: Perception of a speaker’s emotional state is based upon auditory as well as visual cues. Researchers mainly focused on studying emotions that conveyed by visual cues, such as facial expressions recognition research; however, the developmental trend of preschoolers’ emotion understanding based on auditory cues was not very clear. Emotions of a speaker are carried in two vocal channels: prosody and semantic. To explore preschoolers’ perceptive characteristics of vocal emotions, two experiments were conducted in view of prosody and semantic. In Experiment 1, 124 participants aged from 3 to 5 years old (61 boys and 63 girls) were asked to judge five emotions (happiness, fear, anger, sadness and neutral) of a man and a woman from cues that conveyed by expressing neutrally semantic sentences in different prosody. Results indicated that the ability of identifying vocal emotions of anger, fear, and neutrality developed with age in preschool period. Happiness was the easiest emotion to be identified, while fear was the most difficult one. All participants scored higher in perceiving a woman’s vocal cues than those of a man’s. Experiment 2 was aimed at further examining which cue children would rely on to identify the emotion of the speaker if the prosody and semantic cues were contradictory (e.g. a happy event was expressed with sad prosody cue). Participants consisted of 129 children aged from 3 to 5 years old (66 boys and 63 girls). Results showed that all the participants were more inclined to focus on the prosody. It is important to understand the developmental trajectory of understanding vocal emotions in preschoolers. Finding out more about typical patterns of children’s early emotion understanding abilities is beneficial for child education, especially for designing early interventions for atypical children, such as children with cochlear implants or hearing aids and with autism.

Key words: emotion, vocal cues, prosody, semantic