Emotional Prosody - Instructions for Actors

Background and Purpose
Methods/Procedures for Audio Recording
Definitions of Emotional Categories and Continua

Background and Purpose
We're interested in prosody: the aspects of speech (emotion, intonation) that are left out of the written form of a message.  For a series of experiments in the perception of prosody, we're making recordings, in which simple phrases are expressed in ways that reflect varied contexts.  The same phrase might be used to:
  • answer different questions,
  • address listeners at different distances from the speaker, or
  • express different emotional states.
We're using actors because they are experts at producing this kind of contextual variation in a natural and convincing way.

The recordings will be used in several different kinds of experiments.  For instance, we will use functional imaging techniques to determine what parts of the brain are involved in processing different sorts of prosodic information.  We also plan to play these audio recordings to people who -- because of a neurological condition like Parkinson's disease -- do not express emotion well themselves.  We will ask these patients to make judgments regarding these audio recordings, in order to determine if their impaired ability to express emotion is related to their understanding of emotional expression when they hear it.

Methods/Procedures for Audio Recordings

Background to script
You'll be reading "scripts" that are somewhat unusual and difficult.  Some of our research techniques require short utterances -- less than 1.5 seconds long.  We also need to compare prosodically-different phrases whose literal content is completely neutral in different emotional states and conversational contexts.  Therefore, some of the phrases you'll be reading are neutral things, like numbers and dates.  Depending on the context, a number or date can be boring, pleasant, infuriating, amusing, etc.  We're relying on you to find a way to express the specified emotions, attitudes or contexts using these very short and intrisically empty "lines".

Types of context for scripted phrases   

1. Distance/Dominance
2. 14 Emotional States

1. Distance/Dominance   
In the first section of the recording, we'll be asking you to express a dimension of dominance and a dimension of distance.

The distance dimension is easy to understand and also easy to produce:  It is just a matter of how far away you imagine your hearer to be.  You may be speaking

  • in a private conversation with someone who is physically very close, just a few inches away;
  • in a general conversation with one or more people, a few feet away;
  • with someone on the far side of a large room, perhaps 30 or 40 feet away.
The dominance dimension is also easy to understand, but is harder to act out convincingly.  We're interested in the continuum of attitudes ranging from tentative, insecure, uncertain and submissive at one end, to authoritative, confident, forthright and dominant at the other.  We'll ask you take on attitudes at opposing ends of the continuum, and sometimes to adopt a neutral stance.

We will not ask you to produce all combinations of the distance and dominance dimensions, but rather to produce near to far distances given neutral dominance, and submissive to dominant attitudes given a medium distance.

2. 14 Emotional States   
In the second section of the recording, we'll ask you to read lines in 14 specific emotional states.  These states are:

  • hot anger
  • cold anger
  • panic
  • anxiety
  • despair
  • sadness
  • elation
  • happiness
  • interest
  • boredom
  • shame
  • pride
  • disgust
  • contempt

Definitions of Emotional Categories and Continua   

The categories of emotions were chosen based on Banse & Scherer's (1996) selection criteria.  They were drawn from over 3,800 descriptions of emotional experiences as well as the situations that elicited these responses.  You will be provided with a table, in which the emotional categories are detailed.  It should inform you of the intonation you will use when stating the phrase.  You will also be provided with brief descriptions of situations that may elicit these kinds of emotional responses.  When in doubt, you should rely on the situations that elicit each response.

Following the table, you will find a sample "script" card, with the dates and numbers to be read, and the type of prosody to use (either from the emotional category, or the distance/dominance continuum).  For each type of prosody, we ask that you state the category you will be using before reading the cards (this helps us with editing later).  We suggest that you review the situations and descriptrs for each category, and repeat each phrase until you are satisfied that you have an acceptable exemplar for the category.  You may find that you repeat the first card a few times, the second twice, and the latter cards for each category once.