The neural response to emotional prosody, as revealed by functional magnetic resonance imaging

Neuropsychologia. 2003;41(10):1410-21. doi: 10.1016/s0028-3932(03)00017-4.


Prosody is an important feature of language, comprising intonation, loudness, and tempo. Emotional prosodic processing forms an integral part of our social interactions. The main aim of this study was to use bold contrast fMRI to clarify the normal functional neuroanatomy of emotional prosody, in passive and active contexts. Subjects performed six separate scanning studies, within which two different conditions were contrasted: (1) "pure" emotional prosody versus rest; (2) congruent emotional prosody versus 'neutral' sentences; (3) congruent emotional prosody versus rest; (4) incongruent emotional prosody versus rest; (5) congruent versus incongruent emotional prosody; and (6) an active experiment in which subjects were instructed to either attend to the emotion conveyed by semantic content or that conveyed by tone of voice. Data resulting from these contrasts were analysed using SPM99. Passive listening to emotional prosody consistently activated the lateral temporal lobe (superior and/or middle temporal gyri). This temporal lobe response was relatively right-lateralised with or without semantic information. Both the separate and direct comparisons of congruent and incongruent emotional prosody revealed that subjects used fewer brain regions to process incongruent emotional prosody than congruent. The neural response to attention to semantics, was left lateralised, and recruited an extensive network not activated by attention to emotional prosody. Attention to emotional prosody modulated the response to speech, and induced right-lateralised activity, including the middle temporal gyrus. In confirming the results of lesion and neuropsychological studies, the current study emphasises the importance of the right hemisphere in the processing of emotional prosody, specifically the lateral temporal lobes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Speech Perception / physiology*
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology*