FEATURE25 August 2016

Speed of sound

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Behavioural science Features Impact

New research reveals that we process sounds more quickly than words. Could this be used to marketers’ advantage? By Bronwen Morgan

Sound crop

They say actions speak louder than words, but do noises deliver the message faster? A new study has revealed that human sounds are better – or at least quicker – at conveying emotions than words. 

The researchers looked into the notion that brains respond differently when emotions are expressed through vocalisations where no words are used – noises such as laughter, crying or growls, for example – than when they are expressed through language. 

They focused on three basic emotions: anger, sadness and happiness. Researchers tested 24 respondents by playing a mixture of vocalisations and ‘language-like’ nonsense speech (Jabberwocky-type words) spoken with different ‘emotional intent’. Participants were then asked to identify which emotion was being conveyed. An electroencephalogram (EEG) machine recorded, simultaneously, how quickly – and in which ways – the brain responded to each stimulus. 

Researchers found that participants not only processed vocalisations more quickly than speech, but that they paid more attention to an emotion expressed through vocalisations.

According ...