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Are positive vocalizations perceived as communicating happiness across cultural boundaries? [Article addendum]


Sauter,  Disa
Comparative Cognitive Anthropology, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Sauter, D. (2010). Are positive vocalizations perceived as communicating happiness across cultural boundaries? [Article addendum]. Communicative & Integrative Biology, 3(5), 440-442. doi:10.4161/cib.3.5.12209.

Laughter communicates a feeling of enjoyment across cultures, while non-verbal vocalizations of several other positive emotions, such as achievement or sensual pleasure, are recognizable only within, but not across, cultural boundaries. Are these positive vocalizations nevertheless interpreted cross-culturally as signaling positive affect? In a match-to-sample task, positive emotional vocal stimuli were paired with positive and negative facial expressions, by English participants and members of the Himba, a semi-nomadic, culturally isolated Namibian group. The results showed that laughter was associated with a smiling facial expression across both groups, consistent with previous work showing that human laughter is a positive, social signal with deep evolutionary roots. However, non-verbal vocalizations of achievement, sensual pleasure, and relief were not cross-culturally associated with smiling facial expressions, perhaps indicating that these types of vocalizations are not cross-culturally interpreted as communicating a positive emotional state, or alternatively that these emotions are associated with positive facial expression other than smiling. These results are discussed in the context of positive emotional communication in vocal and facial signals. Research on the perception of non-verbal vocalizations of emotions across cultures demonstrates that some affective signals, including laughter, are associated with particular facial configurations and emotional states, supporting theories of emotions as a set of evolved functions that are shared by all humans regardless of cultural boundaries.
Addendum to: Sauter D, Eisner F, Ekman P, Scott SK. Cross-cultural recognition of basic emotions through nonverbal emotional vocalizations. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2010; 107:2408–12; PMID: 20133790; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0908239106.