Enhanced recognition of vocal emotions in individuals with naturally good musical abilities

Emotion. 2022 Aug;22(5):894-906. doi: 10.1037/emo0000770. Epub 2020 Jul 27.


Music training is widely assumed to enhance several nonmusical abilities, including speech perception, executive functions, reading, and emotion recognition. This assumption is based primarily on cross-sectional comparisons between musicians and nonmusicians. It remains unclear, however, whether training itself is necessary to explain the musician advantages, or whether factors such as innate predispositions and informal musical experience could produce similar effects. Here, we sought to clarify this issue by examining the association between music training, music perception abilities and vocal emotion recognition. The sample (N = 169) comprised musically trained and untrained listeners who varied widely in their musical skills, as assessed through self-report and performance-based measures. The emotion recognition tasks required listeners to categorize emotions in nonverbal vocalizations (e.g., laughter, crying) and in speech prosody. Music training was associated positively with emotion recognition across tasks, but the effect was small. We also found a positive association between music perception abilities and emotion recognition in the entire sample, even with music training held constant. In fact, untrained participants with good musical abilities were as good as highly trained musicians at recognizing vocal emotions. Moreover, the association between music training and emotion recognition was fully mediated by auditory and music perception skills. Thus, in the absence of formal music training, individuals who were "naturally" musical showed musician-like performance at recognizing vocal emotions. These findings highlight an important role for factors other than music training (e.g., predispositions and informal musical experience) in associations between musical and nonmusical domains. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Auditory Perception
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Emotions
  • Humans
  • Music* / psychology
  • Recognition, Psychology
  • Speech Perception*