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Basic and Cognitive Emotions in Sound Perception

René van Egmond , Pieter Desmet , Aadjan van der Helm

In the processing of sound two main stages can be discerned. In the first stage the sound is processed by the inner ear and certain perceptual attributes (loudness, roughness) result. In the second stage the sound is described and structured with knowledge present in long term memory. In emotion research a distinction is often made between basic emotions (e.g., pain, pleasure) and cognitive emotions (e.g., indignation, desire). In a theoretical framework it is hypothesized that the basic emotions are more related to the perceptual attributes that result from the sound processing by the inner ear, whereas the cognitive emotions are more related to the attributes that result from higher level processing in the brain. In a study, people had to rate emotion words (basic and cognitive) on a 10-point scale after hearing a sound. The sounds were everyday sounds and synthesized sounds. In addition to the rating the reaction time of a participant was measured. The latter measurement should enable us to make a distinction between the basic and the cognitive emotions. It was found that response times enabled a distinction between cognitive and basic emotions but not between different sounds. The analysis of the rating data revealed that cognitive and basic were mapped together. It is therefore suggested that in order to gain understanding in the underlying mental processes that result in certain emotions, response times are essential for our understanding and not the widely used rating scale data.


product sound, emotion, cognition, process, response time