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Journal of Nonverbal Behavior

, Volume 43, Issue 4, pp 493–511 | Cite as

The Role of Physiology and Voice in Emotion Perception During Social Stress

  • Nathaniel S. EcklandEmail author
  • Teresa M. Leyro
  • Wendy Berry Mendes
  • Renee J. Thompson
Original Paper
  • 156 Downloads

Abstract

Deciphering others’ affect is ubiquitous in daily life and is important for navigating social interactions and relationships. Research has found that behavioral components, such as facial expressions or body language, are critical channels by which people understand other people’s affect. In the current research, we examined how people’s perceptions of targets’ positive affect (PA) and negative affect (NA) are associated with targets’ physiological reactivity, and whether behavioral indices mediate these associations. A total of 94 participants (i.e., observers) watched videos of targets completing a social stress task during which targets’ physiological reactivity [i.e., changes in respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), cardiac output (CO), and ventricular contractility (VC)] was assessed. We predicted (1) targets’ RSA reactivity would be negatively associated with observers’ perceptions of PA and NA (to a lesser magnitude than PA); (2) targets’ CO reactivity would be positively associated with observers’ perceptions of PA and unrelated to perceptions of NA; and (3) targets’ VC would be positively associated perceptions of PA or NA (VC was an exploratory hypothesis). Our hypotheses were largely supported. Mediational analyses revealed that vocal prosody was a significant mediator of the association between perceptions of targets’ affect and their physiological reactivity. The findings suggest that observers can reliably detect targets’ emotional experiences as they manifest at a physiological level and that voice is an especially useful marker of how people perceive others’ affective experience. The findings have implications for aspects of relationships involving emotion perception, including affect contagion and interpersonal emotion regulation.

Keywords

Emotion Emotion perception Social stress Autonomic nervous system 

Notes

Acknowledgements

This research was supported by the Sarlo-Ekman endowment to Wendy Berry Mendes. We thank the research assistants who worked on this project through the Emotion, Health, and Psychophysiology Lab at UCSF for their help in the collection of experimental stimuli

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflicts of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Human and Animal Rights

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignChampaignUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyRutgers University, The State University of New JerseyNew BrunswickUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of California, San FranciscoSan FranciscoUSA
  4. 4.Department of Psychological and Brain SciencesWashington University in St. LouisSt. LouisUSA

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