Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Learned Emotive Expression

This story is about a study seeking to determine which of our emotive vocal expressions are instinctual and which are learned.

It now seems that only expressions of laughter and relief are instinctive, whereas other emotional outbursts need to be learned from other people. To find out which sounds are instinctive, a team led by Disa Sauter of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, asked eight deaf and eight hearing individuals to vocalise nine different emotions, but without words. These included fear, relief, anger, hilarity, triumph, disgust and sadness. It turned out that the only two easily identifiable emotional sounds made by the deaf participants were laughter and sighs of relief. "They seem to be the strongest," says Sauter. . . 

. . . The panel found it easier to guess all the other emotions if the sounds came from the hearing individuals. Even screams of terror were much less obvious from those who were deaf.

"This means that for many kinds of emotional sounds, hearing the sounds of others is an important part of development for our sounds to be understandable to others,"

To me it's not too much of a stretch to think this goes for musical expression as well, that we learn the stereotypical ways our cultures go about expressing emotions through music and try to do the same with our own music so as to be comprehensible. And within single cultures there are subcultures that pursue different aspects of those stereotypes. Thinking that the genre we like the most is the best might just mean that's the one we've listened to the most, have learned the most about, so it speaks to us more completely.

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