Science – Frankfurt am Main – Particularly acute manifestations are misunderstood

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Frankfurt/Main (DPA) – The more intensely emotions are expressed through sounds, the easier it is to misunderstand them. At least that’s the research at the Frankfurt Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Empirical Aesthetics. “The connection is contradictory,” said Natalie Holz of the German Press Agency. The neuroscientist is pursuing her doctorate on the subject and is the first author of two specialist articles. Most people will instinctively suspect the opposite: the stronger the emotion and its emotional expression, the better they are perceived.

For their analysis, Holz had more than 1000 audio snippets recorded of non-verbal sounds such as screaming, laughing, sighing, groaning and moaning. Of these, 480 were played for 90 study participants. After each passage the questions were to be answered: What sentiment is being expressed here? How intense is this feeling? Is it positive or negative? The scientists then examined how the audience’s perception of the sounds changed depending on the emotional intensity.

“The result surprised us,” says Holz: As expected, the perception of emotion initially improved with increased emotion intensity. But the stronger the intensity got above a certain threshold, the less accurately it was assessed. In case of extremely strong sentiments, the hit rate has also come down drastically. In the case of extremely intense emotions, listeners can no longer reliably distinguish between individual emotions – for example, surprise or victory. They were no longer able to say with certainty whether the sentiment was more positive or negative. The screams of pain and the screams of joy sounded just like hers.

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“Contrary to widespread belief, we have found that the most intense emotions are not the best explained. On the contrary, they are the most ambiguous of all,” says the neuroscientist. Nevertheless, the signals are not insignificant: both the intensity and the state of the stimulus are clearly perceived. “In extreme situations, it may be more important to recognize the relevance and be concerned than to identify the relevant emotional meaning.”

The first results of the study were published in May in the journal “Scientific Reports.” New York University and the Max Planck NYU Center for Language, Music and Emotion were also involved. A second publication on the audio database on which the experiments are based is due to appear in the magazine “Emotion” at the end of the year.

Scientists at Frankfurt’s Goethe University have also dealt with emotion. Claudius Gross of the Institute for Theoretical Physics examines the question of why evolution has endowed us with emotions in the first place. The results were published in the journal “Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience.” To make decisions, according to Gross, living beings with complex choices for action need a mechanism that significantly reduces cognitive needs: “That’s what makes emotions possible.” Accordingly, they help in evaluating various activities in a comparative manner so that goals and tasks can be selected efficiently.

© dpa-infocom, dpa: 211219-99-439058 / 3

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