Common cues to emotion in the dynamic facial expressions of speech and song

Steven R. Livingstone*, William F. Thompson, Marcelo M. Wanderley, Caroline Palmer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)
42 Downloads (Pure)


Speech and song are universal forms of vocalization that may share aspects of emotional expression. Research has focused on parallels in acoustic features, overlooking facial cues to emotion. In three experiments, we compared moving facial expressions in speech and song. In Experiment 1, vocalists spoke and sang statements each with five emotions. Vocalists exhibited emotion-dependent movements of the eyebrows and lip corners that transcended speech–song differences. Vocalists’ jaw movements were coupled to their acoustic intensity, exhibiting differences across emotion and speech–song. Vocalists’ emotional movements extended beyond vocal sound to include large sustained expressions, suggesting a communicative function. In Experiment 2, viewers judged silent videos of vocalists’ facial expressions prior to, during, and following vocalization. Emotional intentions were identified accurately for movements during and after vocalization, suggesting that these movements support the acoustic message. Experiment 3 compared emotional identification in voice-only, face-only, and face-and-voice recordings. Emotion judgements for voice-only singing were poorly identified, yet were accurate for all other conditions, confirming that facial expressions conveyed emotion more accurately than the voice in song, yet were equivalent in speech. Collectively, these findings highlight broad commonalities in the facial cues to emotion in speech and song, yet highlight differences in perception and acoustic-motor production.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)952-970
Number of pages19
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 4 May 2015
Externally publishedYes


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