Affective reactions to acoustic stimuli


Address reprint requests to: Margaret Bradley, Ph.D., Box 100165 HSC, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, 32610, USA.


Emotional reactions to naturally occurring sounds (e.g., screams, erotica, bombs, etc.) were investigated in two studies. In Experiment 1, subjects rated the pleasure and arousal elicited when listening to each of 60 sounds, followed by an incidental free recall task. The shape of the two-dimensional affective space defined by the mean ratings for each sound was similar to that previously obtained for pictures, and, like memory for pictures, free recall was highest for emotionally arousing stimuli. In Experiment 2, autonomic and facial electromyographic (EMG) activity were recorded while a new group of subjects listened to the same set of sounds; the startle reflex was measured using visual probes. Listening to unpleasant sounds resulted in larger startle reflexes, more corrugator EMG activity, and larger heart rate deceleration compared with listening to pleasant sounds. Electrodermal reactions were larger for emotionally arousing than for neutral materials. Taken together, the data suggest that acoustic cues activate the appetitive and defensive motivational circuits underlying emotional expression in ways similar to pictures.