Chapter 8: Fear, Anxiety, and Stress

Fear: Vocal Changes

The prior study suggests that a gasp could be one vocal change associated with fear. In the basic emotions/social constructivist chapter, we discussed a study by Sauter et al. (2010) in which both Himba and European English participants matched the fear story to the sound of a scream at beyond chance levels. This occurred when participants listened to their own and the other participants’ vocal sounds. The emotional story for fear was “Someone is suddenly faced with a dangerous animal and feels very scared” (Sauter et al., 2010, online supplemental material).

Cordaro, Keltner, and colleagues (2016) investigated identification of vocal change across 10 industrialized countries (USA, China, Germany, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Turkey, Poland, and Pakistan) and Bhutan, with the same procedure as Sauter et al., (2010). Bhutan is an isolated country located in the Himalayas. Across these countries, the scream was correctly matched to the fear story 69% to 95% of the time, suggesting the scream is a universal vocal change of fear.

In one last study by Gendron, Barrett and colleagues (2014a), which we covered earlier, Himba and Boston participants heard a scream and were asked to label the emotion. Approximately 20% of the Himba and 55% of the Boston participants labeled the scream as fear. The Himba findings were not at beyond chance levels and thus might suggest the scream is not universal. But, Gendron et al. (2014a) point out that the Himba used physical terms to label the sound (such as “screaming” or “yelling”) instead of mental states like fear. The Himba also labeled vocal sounds of “ahhh-ahhh” and a growl as fear, although these sounds were meant to be surprise and anger, respectively.


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Psychology of Human Emotion by Michelle Yarwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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