Academic journal article Psychomusicology

Perceiving Categorical Emotion in Sound: The Role of Timbre

Academic journal article Psychomusicology

Perceiving Categorical Emotion in Sound: The Role of Timbre

Article excerpt

Emotion in sounds is perceived by a number of attributes such as pitch, loudness, duration, and timbre (Caclin et al., 2006; Hailstone et al., 2009). Timbre is the acoustic property of sound that is essential for the identification of auditory stimuli with identical pitches (Bregman, Liao, & Levitan, 1990; Hailstone et al., 2009; McAdams & Cunible, 1992; McAdams, Winsberg, Donnadieu, De Soete, & Krimphoff, 1995). For example, to identify two musical instruments playing the same note for the same duration, one uses timbre (Grey & Moorer, 1977; Risset & Wessel, 1982). This study examines the role of timbre for the perception of emotion.

There is considerable research about how acoustic and structural features contribute to emotional expression in music, but few studies have explored the connection between timbre and emotion. As a notable exception, Eerola, Ferrer, and Alluri (2012) showed that the acoustic features envelope centroid, ratio high-frequency to low-frequency energy, and skewness could predict dimensions of emotion (i.e., valence and activation), but how does this extend to particular categories of emotion (e.g., happy, sad, anger, fear, or disgust; Ekman, 1992)? By looking at particular categories of emotions we can describe the relationship between timbre and emotion more thoroughly. In this study we investigate the role of timbre in emotion perception by examining the following questions; do particular acoustic features of sound that predict timbre also predict different categories of emotions in instrumental sounds? If so, how are they related?

Timbre and Emotion

Timbre is an attribute of sound used by a listener to judge that two sounds similar in loudness and pitch are dissimilar (American National Standards Institute, 1994). Helmholtz defined different timbres as resulting from different amplitudes (of harmonic components) of a complex tone in a steady state (Helmholtz, 1885). These definitions, however, do not adequately describe acoustic features that predict both timbre and emotion in sound. A wide range of features from loudness and roughness (e.g., Leman, Vermeulen, De Voogdt, Moelants, & Lesaffre, 2005) to mode and harmony (e.g., Gabrielsson & Lindström, 2010) can account for perceived emotions, but can these features also explain timbre (Patel, 2009)?

Psychoacoustical experiments show that timbre is multidimensional (Caclin et al., 2005); it arises from a distribution of acoustic features rather than one single physical dimension (Padova, Bianchini, Lupone, & Balardinelli, 2003). Acoustic features such as amplitude, phase, attack time, decay, spectrum fine structure, spectral fluctuation, the presence of low-amplitude to highfrequency energy and spectral centroid work simultaneously to influence the perception of timbre and are central for instrument recognition (Caclin et al., 2005; Caclin, Giard, & McAdams, 2009; Chartrand & Belin, 2006; Grey & Moorer, 1977; Hailstone et al., 2009; Hajda, Kendall, Carterrette, & Harshberger, 1997). The present research adopts these acoustic features and investigates the extent to which these features predict the perception of five categorical emotions-happiness, sadness, anger, fear, and disgust.

Related Work: Acoustic Features of Sound

Acoustic features of emotional sounds have been investigated since the 1970s (see Scherer & Oshinsky, 1977). Only recently have researchers studied the relationship between emotion and timbre. There are features that can explain emotion in sound; however, there is not yet evidence for a conclusive set of acoustic features that explain both emotion and timbre (Coutinho & Dibben, 2013; Eerola & Vuoskoski, 2013).

Eerola et al. (2012) showed that a dominant portion of valence and arousal could be predicted by a few acoustic features such as ratio of high-frequency to low-frequency energy, attack slope, and envelope centroid. Participants rated the perceived affect of 110 instrumental sounds that were equal in duration, pitch, and dynamics. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.