New Study Links Vocal Behavior to Emotional Arousal

Parents and teenagers often engage in heated debates and arguments. It is natural for these two figures to have conflicts that increase emotional arousal. Research has shown that more conflict-rooted emotional arousal increases the risk for negative psychological well-being. Additionally, increased emotional arousal can also lead to physical ailments and can predict negative relationship behaviors and make individuals more vulnerable to relationship aggression and violence. There are many different ways to measure emotional arousal, including self-reports and analyzing cortisol levels. In a recent study, Brian R. Baucom of the Department of Psychology at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles chose to use both of these methods to assess emotional arousal in a sample of teens. However, Baucom also measured emotional response based on vocal behavior.

For his study, Baucom assessed 56 adolescents during and after they engaged in verbal conflicts with their parents. Baucom combined the results of a frequency range test with those of the cortisol examinations and self-reports and found that all three were able to capture moments of emotional arousal. The self-reports generated by the teen participants described increases in emotional volatility during and after the conflict. These reports were further supported by elevated cortisol levels and increases in vocal behavior range and frequency.

Overall, Baucom discovered that the teens with the highest levels of cortisol output and negative feelings also had the highest levels of vocal range and frequency. According to Baucom, “Greater cortisol output is significantly associated with a slower time-to-peak of range of fundamental frequency for girls and with significantly less variability in range of fundamental frequency for boys.” He believes these results show that increased emotional arousal can be evidenced through vocal frequencies and ranges as they occur and over time. Because emotional arousal is associated with varying psychological impairments Baucom hopes that the findings from his study will open up the door for further exploration of vocal behaviors in relation to psychological conditions and maladaptive behaviors.

Baucom, B. R., Saxbe, D. E., Ramos, M. C., Spies, L. A., Iturralde, E., Duman, S., et al. (2012). Correlates and Characteristics of Adolescents’ Encoded Emotional Arousal During Family Conflict. Emotion. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028872

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  • Jan

    July 24th, 2012 at 4:12 AM

    And these are the things that I wish that I had known as a young person!

    I have always had a pretty terrible temper and I can’t tell you how many times my parents and I got into real knock down drag out raging arguments when I was a teenager. And it didn’t stop there, because I let that anger follow me all through life, with really no big reason why I felt that way. Now as a grown up I have had so many health problems I can’t list them all. I don’t know if all of this emotion that I have always had inside is at the root cause of this but it is something to think about. It’s also a reason why I would now encourage people to, if they have a problem, work it out in a way that keeps you calm, if possible, and save the emotions for the good stuff.

  • Collin

    July 24th, 2012 at 3:45 PM

    Looks like cortisol plays a huge factor in many parts of our lives
    Hasn’t it been determined that it can play a role in our metabolism too?

  • peyton

    July 25th, 2012 at 5:03 PM

    All you have to do is listen to someone who is losing their cool and you can definitely hear it in their voice. They get louder, more shrill, more intense, and you can hear it all in their vocal reactions even if their face doesn’t show it.

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