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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Seeing in Your Brain the Emotions You Hear

Scientists can use brain scans to tell whether you've just heard words spoken in anger, joy, relief, or sadness, according to a new study led by Thomas Ethofer at the University of Geneva. The researchers discovered that different emotions in speech lead to distinct patterns of activity in a listener's auditory cortex, the area of the brain that processes sound and human voices. By looking at the overall pattern of activity in this brain region, they could identify which emotion had just been heard.
"Comprehension of emotional prosody is crucial for social functioning and compromised in various psychiatric disorders, including deficits for anger and sadness in schizophrenia, fear and surprise in bipolar affective disorder, and surprise in depression," the researchers write in the journal Current Biology. "Future research might apply a similar approach as ours to clarify whether these deficits are paralleled by activity changes blurring emotions at the level of auditory cortex, or are due to disrupted patterns within frontal regions reflecting biased interpretation of emotional signals."