Past Blog: Determining Mental State from Tone of Voice: Part 1

In a recent study done by the University of Arizona, researchers discovered that just 30 seconds of speaking with a complete stranger could reveal how well they were coping with their emotions.

The study entitled “Thin-Slicing Divorce: Thirty Seconds of Information Predict Changes in Psychological Adjustment Over 90 Days” was recently published in The Journal of Psychological Science.

In this study, conducted by Ashley Mason, David Sbarra and Matthias R. Mehl, men and women who had recently experienced a romantic separation were asked to complete questionnaires and provide audio recordings on their feelings towards their former partners and relationships. The first 30 seconds were saved as sound files and written transcriptions. The subjects were asked to repeat this process three months later.

Students participating in the study were divided into two groups: one only read the transcripts, and the other only listened to the recordings. Neither of the groups had any visual contact with the subjects. Each group was asked to judge the subjects’ ability to control their emotions, cope with their separations and the stress of their post-separation life, and their thoughts about the relationship. Both groups agreed with the subjects’ assessments of their separations. However, the students that had listened to the sound clips were better able to predict what the subjects would say about their psychological adjustments later on.

Ashley Mason, the University of Arizona doctoral student who conducted this study, states that “it’s important to know that it is not about what people are saying, it’s how they’re saying it that is tipping us off to how they’re doing, and more importantly, how they’re going to do.”

Dr. Bella DePaulo, leading deception expert, analyzed the study in a recent article she wrote for Psychology Today. “The study also underscores something I learned from my studies of deception: tone of voice matters,” she says. “Sometimes, what you can learn from a person from tuning in to their tone of voice is more than you can tell from just having access to their words (as in an email) or from watching a silent video clip in which you can see all of their facial expressions and body movements.” She explains that people who are perceived as the least stressed will also generally describe themselves as the least stressed, and will still hold to that statement three months later.

Do you think a 30 second sound bite is enough to judge someone’s current emotional state, as well as predict their future feelings? Or do you think that body language and facial expressions are necessary in order to do so?

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