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Is laughter a better vocal change detector than a growl?

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Obermeier,  Christian
Department Neuropsychology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Kotz,  Sonja A.
Department Neuropsychology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;
Department of Neuropsychology and Psychopharmacology, Maastricht University, the Netherlands;

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Citation

Pinheiro, A. P., Barros, C., Vasconcelos, M., Obermeier, C., & Kotz, S. A. (2017). Is laughter a better vocal change detector than a growl? Cortex, 94, 233-248. doi:10.1016/j.cortex.2017.03.018.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0004-A763-0
Abstract
The capacity to predict what should happen next and to minimize any discrepancy between an expected and an actual sensory input (prediction error) is a central aspect of perception. Particularly in vocal communication, the effective prediction of an auditory input that informs the listener about the emotionality of a speaker is critical. What is currently unknown is how the perceived valence of an emotional vocalization affects the capacity to predict and detect a change in the auditory input. This question was probed in a combined event-related potential (ERP) and time-frequency analysis approach. Specifically, we examined the brain response to standards (Repetition Positivity) and to deviants (Mismatch Negativity - MMN), as well as the anticipatory response to the vocal sounds (pre-stimulus beta oscillatory power). Short neutral, happy (laughter), and angry (growls) vocalizations were presented both as standard and deviant stimuli in a passive oddball listening task while participants watched a silent movie and were instructed to ignore the vocalizations. MMN amplitude was increased for happy compared to neutral and angry vocalizations. The Repetition Positivity was enhanced for happy standard vocalizations. Induced pre-stimulus upper beta power was increased for happy vocalizations, and predicted the modulation of the standard Repetition Positivity. These findings indicate enhanced sensory prediction for positive vocalizations such as laughter. Together, the results suggest that positive vocalizations are more effective predictors in social communication than angry and neutral ones, possibly due to their high social significance.