The key to happiness? Say 'I'

  • AFP
  • Updated: Jun 30, 2014 17:29 IST

That voices betray emotions by means of their tone is a theory that is as old as human history, but new research now pinpoints the two-way correlation between vowels and feelings.

While it is commonly believed that vocal tones and volume levels can reveal one's emotions, a German researcher and his team demonstrated that this is true, but also in reverse. Published in the journal, Emotion, their paper explores the relationship between the meaning of a word and how it sounds. It's all in the vowels, according to the lead authors, Erfurt-based psychologist Dr Ralf Rummer and the Cologne-based phoneticist, Dr Martine Grice.

They say it's possible to change emotions through vowel articulation.

The researchers concentrated on two specific vowel sounds: the sound of the long 'i' vowel and that of the long, closed 'o' vowel, having previously associated them with positive and negative states of mind, respectively.

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In the first phase of experimentation, Rummer and Grice subjected 78 participants to video clips, the content of which was intended to put them in either a good or a bad mood. Next, they asked participants to invent and pronounce 10 nonsense words. Participants who had watched video clips intended to put them in a good mood, used the long 'i' vowel most frequently, just as those subjected to negative clips clung to the long, closed 'o' vowel.

Rummer and Grice's work offers evidence that could explain the phenomenon that positive words such as 'like' tend to contain the long 'i' vowel and negative words such as 'alone' are likely to contain the long, closed 'o'.

Both researchers say they hope linguists and language users will take this paper into account for future research. "We are currently looking at the effect of perceived vowel type on emotional state," says Grice.

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