Perception of Emotional Prosody in Adolescents

Kara Hurdle* & Isabelle Barrière**, PhD

This study aims to investigate whether autistic individuals can identify the emotion and intensity of the emotion that a speaker is feeling solely on vocal cues.  Autism is a neurological disorder that manifests in repetitive or restrictive behavior and difficulty socializing including identifying how a person is feeling. Emotional prosody is defined as the change in pitch, intensity, and duration of sounds in an utterance influenced by how the speaker is feeling. Through prosody, sadness could be conveyed by having a lower pitch, intensity, slower rate of speech; whereas a person who is feeling happy might speak with a higher pitch, intensity and rate of speech.  The purpose of this study is to investigate if individuals with autism can detect how a person is feeling based on a speaker’s prosodic cues and if the difficulty contributes to the social deficits.             The methodology includes a Qualtrics survey. Each question contained audio stimuli consists of one- to three-second clips of a voice actress saying a neutral sentence such as it’s over there in a tone that portrays one of the following emotions: happy, moderately happy, very surprised, moderately surprised, very sad, moderately sad, very afraid, and moderately afraid. Survey prompts participants to click on an answer choice that corresponds to what the participant believes the person is feeling based on the audio. The participant will be given five seconds to answer each question as the experiment is intended to be based on instinct. We hypothesized that neurotypical adolescents and adults would have a higher performance of detecting emotions, and would perform significantly higher on detecting the intensity of the emotion. This study provides a valuable contribution to our understanding of the social deficits of autistic adolescents and will potentially improve accommodation for individuals with autism.