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Proc Biol Sci. 2019 Jul 10;286(1906):20190513. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2019.0513. Epub 2019 Jul 10.

A multi-sensory code for emotional arousal.

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1 Department of Psychology, Harvard University , Cambridge, MA 02138 , USA.
2 Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Dartmouth College , Hanover, NH 03755 , USA.
3 Department of Biomedical Data Science, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth , Hanover, NH 03755 , USA.


People express emotion using their voice, face and movement, as well as through abstract forms as in art, architecture and music. The structure of these expressions often seems intuitively linked to its meaning: romantic poetry is written in flowery curlicues, while the logos of death metal bands use spiky script. Here, we show that these associations are universally understood because they are signalled using a multi-sensory code for emotional arousal. Specifically, variation in the central tendency of the frequency spectrum of a stimulus-its spectral centroid-is used by signal senders to express emotional arousal, and by signal receivers to make emotional arousal judgements. We show that this code is used across sounds, shapes, speech and human body movements, providing a strong multi-sensory signal that can be used to efficiently estimate an agent's level of emotional arousal.


arousal; cross-modal; emotion; spectral centroid; supramodal


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