Intonation and emotion: influence of pitch levels and contour type on creating emotions

J Voice. 2011 Jan;25(1):e25-34. doi: 10.1016/j.jvoice.2010.02.002. Epub 2010 May 15.


Intonation is a vehicle for communication, which sometimes contributes greater meaning than the semantic content of speech itself. This prosodic element lends the message linguistic and paralinguistic meaning, which carries a highly significant communicative value when conveying emotional states. For this reason, this article analyses the use of intonation as an instrument for arousing various sensations in the listener. The aim was to verify which elements of intonation are more decisive to generate a specific sensation. Experimental research is conducted, in which certain pitch patterns (pitch levels and contour type) are assigned different emotions (joy, anxiety, sadness, and calmness) and are then listened to and assessed using a questionnaire with a bipolar scale of opposed pairs, by a sample audience comprising 100 individuals. The main conclusion drawn is that, although both the variables analyzed--pitch level and contour type--are representative of expressing emotions, contour type is more decisive. In all the models analyzed, contour type has been highly significant and constitutes the variable that has been determined as the final component for recognizing various emotions.

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety
  • Communication*
  • Cues*
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Happiness
  • Humans
  • Judgment
  • Male
  • Pitch Perception*
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Recognition, Psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Voice Quality*