Journal of Nonverbal Behavior

, Volume 42, Issue 2, pp 237–251 | Cite as

Mid-Adolescents’ and Adults’ Recognition of Vocal Cues of Emotion and Social Intent: Differences by Expression and Speaker Age

  • Michele MorningstarEmail author
  • Verity Y. Ly
  • Lara Feldman
  • Melanie A. Dirks
Original Paper


Previous research has suggested that the ability to recognize vocal portrayals of socio-emotional expressions improves with age throughout childhood and adolescence. The current study examined whether stimulus-level factors (i.e., the age of the speaker and the type of expression being conveyed) interacted with listeners’ developmental stage to predict listeners’ recognition accuracy. We assessed mid-adolescent (n = 50, aged 13–15 years) and adult (n = 87, 18–30 years) listeners’ ability to recognize basic emotions and social expressions in the voices of both adult and youth actors. Adults’ emotional prosody was better recognized than that of youth, and adult listeners were more accurate overall than were mid-adolescents. Interaction effects revealed that youths’ accuracy was equivalent to adult listeners’ when hearing adult portrayals of anger, disgust, friendliness, happiness, and meanness, and youth portrayals of disgust, happiness, and meanness. Our findings highlight the importance of speaker characteristics and type of expression on listeners’ ability to recognize vocal cues of emotion and social intent.


Emotion recognition Social expressions Vocal cues Adolescence 



This work was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the McGill Research Ethics Board, and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.


  1. Allgood, R., & Heaton, P. (2015). Developmental change and cross-domain links in vocal and musical emotion recognition performance in childhood. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 33, 398–403. Scholar
  2. Banse, R., & Scherer, K. R. (1996). Acoustic profiles in vocal emotion expression. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 614–636. Scholar
  3. Belin, P., Fillion-Bilodeau, S., & Gosselin, F. (2008). The Montreal affective voices: A validated set of nonverbal affect bursts for research on auditory affective processing. Behaviour Research Methods, 40, 531–539. Scholar
  4. Blakemore, S.-J., & Choudhury, S. (2006). Development of the adolescent brain: Implications for executive function and social cognition. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 47, 296–312. Scholar
  5. Blasi, A., Mercure, E., Lloyd-Fox, S., Thomson, A., Brammer, M., Sauter, D., et al. (2011). Early specialization for voice and emotion processing in the infant brain. Current Biology, 21, 1220–1224. Scholar
  6. Boyatzis, C. J., & Satyaprasad, C. (1994). Children’s facial and gestural decoding and encoding: Relations between skills and with popularity. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 18, 37–55. Scholar
  7. Brosgole, L., & Weisman, J. (1995). Mood recognition across the ages. International Journal of Neuroscience, 82, 169–189. Scholar
  8. Brunswik, E. (1956). Perception and the representative design of psychological experiments. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  9. Cheang, H. S., & Pell, M. D. (2008). The sound of sarcasm. Speech Communication, 50, 366–381. Scholar
  10. Chronaki, G., Hadwin, J. A., Garner, M., Maurage, P., & Sonuga-Barke, E. J. S. (2015). The development of emotion recognition from facial expressions and non-linguistic vocalizations during childhood. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 33, 218–236. Scholar
  11. Fitch, W. T., & Giedd, J. (1999). Morphology and development of the human vocal tract: A study using magnetic resonance imaging. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 106, 1511–1522.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Frank, M. G., & Stennett, J. (2001). The forced-choice paradigm and the perception of facial expressions of emotion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 75–85.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Gallois, C., & Callan, V. J. (1986). Decoding emotional messages: Influence of ethnicity, sex, message type, and channel. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 755–762. Scholar
  14. Grossmann, T. (2010). The development of emotion perception in face and voice during infancy. Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience, 28, 219–236. Scholar
  15. Grossmann, T., Oberecker, R., Koch, S. P., & Friederici, A. D. (2010). The developmental origins of voice processing in the brain. Neuron, 65, 852–858. Scholar
  16. Hawk, S. T., van Kleef, G. A., Fischer, A. H., & van der Schalk, J. (2009). “Worth a thousand words”: Absolute and relative decoding of nonlinguistic affect vocalizations. Emotion, 9, 293–305. Scholar
  17. Johnstone, T., & Scherer, K. R. (2000). Vocal communication of emotion. In M. Lewis & J. Haviland (Eds.), The handbook of emotion (pp. 220–235). New York: Guilford. ISBN-10: 1609180445.Google Scholar
  18. Jürgens, R., Grass, A., Drolet, M., & Fischer, J. (2015). Effect of acting experience on emotion expression and recognition in voice: Non-actors provide better stimuli than expected. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 39, 195–214. Scholar
  19. Juslin, P. N., & Laukka, P. (2003). Communication of emotions in vocal expression and music performance: Different channels, same code? Psychological Bulletin, 129, 770–814. Scholar
  20. Kilford, E. J., Garrett, E., & Blakemore, S. J. (2016). The development of social cognition in adolescence: An integrated perspective. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 70, 106–120.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Koo, T. K., & Li, M. Y. (2016). A guideline of selecting and reporting intraclass correlation coefficients for reliability research. Journal of Chiropractic Medicine, 15, 155–163.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  22. LaFrance, M. (2002). Smile boycotts and other body politics. Feminism & Psychology, 12, 319–323. Scholar
  23. Larson, R., & Richards, M. H. (1991). Daily companionship in late childhood and early adolescence: Changing developmental contexts. Child Development, 62, 284–300. Scholar
  24. McClure, E. B. (2000). A meta-analytic review of sex differences in facial expression processing and their development in infants, children and adolescents. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 424–453. Scholar
  25. Merten, D. E. (1997). The meaning of meanness: Popularity, competition, and conflict among junior high school girls. Sociology of Education, 70, 175–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Mill, A., Allik, J., Realo, A., & Valk, R. (2009). Age-related differences in emotion recognition ability: A cross-sectional study. Emotion, 9, 619–630. Scholar
  27. Mitchell, R. L. C., & Ross, E. D. (2013). Attitudinal prosody: What we know and directions for future study. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 37, 471–479. Scholar
  28. Morningstar, M., Dirks, M. A., & Huang, S. (2017a). Vocal cues underlying youth and adult portrayals of socio-emotional expressions. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 41, 155–183. Scholar
  29. Morningstar, M., Dirks, M. A., Rappaport, B. I., Pine, D. S., & Nelson, E. E. (2017b). Associations between anxious and depressive symptoms and the recognition of vocal socio-emotional expressions in youth. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology. Scholar
  30. Nelson, E. E., Leibenluft, E., McClure, E. B., & Pine, D. S. (2005). The social re-orientation of adolescence: A neuroscience perspective on the process and its relation to psychopathology. Psychological Medicine, 35, 163–174. Scholar
  31. Nowicki, S., & Duke, M. P. (2001). Individual differences in the nonverbal communication of affect: The diagnostic analysis of nonverbal accuracy scale. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 18, 9–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Pell, M. D., Paulmann, S., Dara, C., Alasseri, A., & Kotz, S. A. (2009). Factors in the recognition of vocally expressed emotions: A comparison of four languages. Journal of Phonetics, 37, 417–435. Scholar
  33. Pollak, S. D., & Sinha, P. (2002). Effects of early experience on children’s recognition of facial displays of emotion. Developmental Psychology, 38, 784–791. Scholar
  34. Riggio, R. E., & Friedman, H. S. (1986). Impression formation: The role of expressive behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50, 421–427. Scholar
  35. Rothman, A. D., & Nowicki, S. (2004). A measure of the ability to identify emotion in children’s tone of voice. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 28, 67–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Sauter, D. A., Panattoni, C., & Happé, F. (2012). Children’s recognition of emotions from vocal cues. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 31, 97–113. Scholar
  37. Scherer, K. R. (1996). Adding the affective dimension: A new look in speech analysis and synthesis. Proceedings of the 4th international conference of spoken language processing. Philadelphia, USA.Google Scholar
  38. Scherer, K. R. (2003). Vocal communication of emotion: A review of research paradigms. Speech Communication, 40, 227–256. Scholar
  39. Scherer, K. R., Banse, R., Wallbott, H. G., & Goldbeck, T. (1991). Vocal cues in emotion encoding and decoding. Motivation and Emotion, 15, 123–148. Scholar
  40. Simmons, R. (2002). Odd girl out: The hidden culture of aggression in girls. New York: Harcourt. ISBN 054735102X.Google Scholar
  41. Spackman, M. P., Brown, B. L., & Otto, S. (2009). Do emotions have distinct vocal profiles? A study of idiographic patterns of expression. Cognition and Emotion, 23, 1565–1588. Scholar
  42. Stanton-Salazar, R. D., & Spina, S. U. (2005). Adolescent peer networks as a context for social and emotional support. Youth & Society, 36, 379–417. Scholar
  43. Thompson, A. E., & Voyer, D. (2014). Sex differences in the ability to recognise non-verbal displays of emotion: A meta-analysis. Cognition and Emotion, 28, 1164–1195. Scholar
  44. Underwood, M. K. (2004). Glares of contempt, eye rolls of disgust and turning away to exclude: Non-verbal forms of social aggression among girls. Feminism Psychology, 14, 371–375. Scholar
  45. Wagner, H. L. (1993). On measuring performance in category judgment studies of nonverbal behavior. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 17, 3–28. Scholar
  46. Widen, S. C., & Russell, J. A. (2013). Children’s recognition of disgust in others. Psychological Bulletin, 139, 271–299. Scholar
  47. Zuckerman, M., Lipets, M. S., Hall Koivumaki, J., & Rosenthal, R. (1975). Encoding and decoding nonverbal cues of emotion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 32, 1068–1076. Scholar
  48. Zupan, B. (2015). Recognition of high and low intensity facial and vocal expressions of emotion by children and adults. Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities, 1, 332–344. Retrieved from:

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michele Morningstar
    • 1
    Email author
  • Verity Y. Ly
    • 1
  • Lara Feldman
    • 1
  • Melanie A. Dirks
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada

Personalised recommendations