Automaticity in the recognition of nonverbal emotional vocalizations

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The ability to perceive the emotions of others is crucial for everyday social interactions. Important aspects of visual socioemotional processing, such as the recognition of facial expressions, are known to depend on largely automatic mechanisms. However, whether and how properties of automaticity extend to the auditory domain remains poorly understood. Here we ask if nonverbal auditory emotion recognition is a controlled deliberate or an automatic efficient process, using vocalizations such as laughter, crying, and screams. In a between-subjects design (N = 112), and covering eight emotions (four positive), we determined whether emotion recognition accuracy (a) is improved when participants actively deliberate about their responses (compared with when they respond as fast as possible) and (b) is impaired when they respond under low and high levels of cognitive load (concurrent task involving memorizing sequences of six or eight digits, respectively). Response latencies were also measured. Mixed-effects models revealed that recognition accuracy was high across emotions, and only minimally affected by deliberation and cognitive load; the benefits of deliberation and costs of cognitive load were significant mostly for positive emotions, notably amusement/laughter, and smaller or absent for negative ones; response latencies did not suffer under low or high cognitive load; and high recognition accuracy (approximately 90%) could be reached within 500 ms after the stimulus onset, with performance exceeding chance-level already between 300 and 360 ms. These findings indicate that key features of automaticity, namely fast and efficient/effortless processing, might be a modality-independent component of emotion recognition.


  • César F. Lima
  • Andrey Anikin
  • Ana Catarina Monteiro
  • Sophie K. Scott
  • Sao Luis Castro
External organisations
  • University of Porto
  • University Institute of Lisbon
  • University College London
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Psychology


  • automaticity, cognitive load, deliberation, emotion recognition, nonverbal vocalizations
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)219-233
Issue number2
Early online date2018 May
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Publication categoryResearch