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Vol. 65, No. 4, 2008
Issue release date: February 2009
Phonetica 2008;65:210–230

Encoding Emotions in Speech with the Size Code

A Perceptual Investigation

Chuenwattanapranithi S. · Xu Y. · Thipakorn B. · Maneewongvatana S.
aDepartment of Computer Engineering, King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi, Bangkok, Thailand; bDepartment of Speech, Hearing and Phonetic Sciences, University College London, London, UK

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Our current understanding of how emotions are expressed in speech is still very limited. Part of the difficulty has been the lack of understanding of the underlying mechanisms. Here we report the findings of a somewhat unconventional investigation of emotional speech. Instead of looking for direct acoustic correlates of multiple emotions, we tested a specific theory, the size code hypothesis of emotional speech, about two emotions – anger and happiness. According to the hypothesis, anger and happiness are conveyed in speech by exaggerating or understating the body size of the speaker. In two studies consisting of six experiments, we synthesized vowels with a three-dimensional articulatory synthesizer with parameter manipulations derived from the size code hypothesis, and asked Thai listeners to judge the body size and emotion of the speaker. Vowels synthesized with a longer vocal tract and lower F0 were mostly heard as from a larger person if the length and F0 differences were stationary, but from an angry person if the vocal tract was dynamically lengthened and F0 was dynamically lowered. The opposite was true for the perception of small body size and happiness. These results provide preliminary support for the size code hypothesis. They also point to potential benefits of theory-driven investigations in emotion research.

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