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Michel Belyk and Steven Brown (2015)

Pitch underlies activation of the vocal system during affective vocalization

Social Cognitive and Affect Neuroscience, 11:1078-88.

Affective prosody is that aspect of speech that conveys a speaker's emotional state through modulations in various vocal parameters, most prominently pitch. While a large body of research implicates the cingulate vocalization area in controlling affective vocalizations in monkeys, no systematic test of functional homology for this area has yet been reported in humans. In this study, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to compare brain activations when subjects produced affective vocalizations in the form of exclamations vs non-affective vocalizations with similar pitch contours. We also examined the perception of affective vocalizations by having participants make judgments about either the emotions being conveyed by recorded affective vocalizations or the pitch contours of the same vocalizations. Production of affective vocalizations and matched pitch contours activated a highly overlapping set of brain areas, including the larynx-phonation area of the primary motor cortex and a region of the anterior cingulate cortex that is consistent with the macro-anatomical position of the cingulate vocalization area. This overlap contradicts the dominant view that these areas form two distinct vocal pathways with dissociable functions. Instead, we propose that these brain areas are nodes in a single vocal network, with an emphasis on pitch modulation as a vehicle for affective expression.

affective prosody, fMRI, phonation, vocalization, pitch