Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 41, Issue 6, pp 749–759 | Cite as

Effects of emotional prosody on novel word learning in relation to autism-like traits

  • Melina J. West
  • David A. Copland
  • Wendy L. Arnott
  • Nicole L. Nelson
  • Anthony J. Angwin
Original Paper


Emotional information can influence various cognitive processes, such as attention, motivation, and memory. Differences in the processing of emotion have been observed in individuals with high levels of autism-like traits. The current study aimed to determine the influence of emotional prosody on word learning ability in neurotypical adults who varied in their levels of autism-like traits. Thirty-eight participants learned 30 nonsense words as names for 30 “alien” characters. Alien names were verbally presented with happy, fearful, or neutral prosody. For all participants, recall performance was significantly worse for words spoken with fearful prosody compared to neutral. Recall performance was also worse for words spoken with happy prosody compared to neutral, but only for those with lower levels of autism-like traits. The findings suggest that emotional prosody can interfere with word learning, and that people with fewer autism-like traits may be more susceptible to such interference due to a higher attention bias toward emotion.


Emotion Word learning Autism Broader autism phenotype Prosody 



We thank acting student Raechyl French for providing voice recordings of the emotional stimuli. Author 2 was supported by a UQ Vice Chancellor’s Fellowship.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors report no conflicts of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in this study were in accordance with the ethical standards of the University of Queensland and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Melina J. West
    • 1
    • 2
  • David A. Copland
    • 1
    • 3
  • Wendy L. Arnott
    • 4
  • Nicole L. Nelson
    • 2
  • Anthony J. Angwin
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Health and Rehabilitation SciencesUniversity of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  2. 2.School of PsychologyUniversity of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  3. 3.University of Queensland Centre for Clinical ResearchBrisbaneAustralia
  4. 4.Hear and SayBrisbaneAustralia

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