Journal of Psycholinguistic Research

, Volume 46, Issue 2, pp 457–468 | Cite as

Are Vocal Pitch Changes in Response to Facial Expressions of Emotions Potential Cues of Empathy? A Preliminary Report

  • Sethu KarthikeyanEmail author
  • Vijayachandra Ramachandra


Previous research has demonstrated that even brief exposures to facial expressions of emotions elicit facial mimicry in receivers in the form of corresponding facial muscle movements. As well, vocal and verbal patterns of speakers converge in conversations, a type of vocal mimicry. There is also evidence of cross-modal mimicry in which emotional vocalizations elicit corresponding facial muscle activity. Further, empathic capacity has been associated with enhanced tendency towards facial mimicry as well as verbal synchrony. We investigated a type of potential cross-modal mimicry in a simulated dyadic situation. Specifically, we examined the influence of facial expressions of happy, sad, and neutral emotions on the vocal pitch of receivers, and its potential association with empathy. Results indicated that whereas both mean pitch and variability of pitch varied somewhat in the predicted directions, empathy was correlated with the difference in the variability of pitch while speaking to the sad and neutral faces. Discussion of results considers the dimensional nature of emotional vocalizations and possible future directions.


Facial emotions Vocal pitch Cross-modal mimicry Empathy Arousal and valence 



We wish to thank Christina Dixon, Karen Buckley, and Sydney Pauline for assistance with data collection.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Communication Sciences and Disorders Program, College of Health ProfessionsPace UniversityNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Language and Cognition Lab, Department of Communication Sciences and DisordersMarywood UniversityScrantonUSA

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