By WO Team

Listen to feel

Listen to feel


Just listen and don’t look - if you want to accurately perceive others internal state of emotions, a recent study suggested.

According to a research published in the Journal of American Psychologist, the flagship publication of the American Psychological Association, voice-only communication enhances empathic accuracy.

Findings demonstrated that listening-only resulted in more accurate understanding of other’s emotions than visual-only, or combined voice and visual mode of emotion recognition.


Humans have profound desire to connect with others and use many different skills to discern emotions or intentions. But, with both will and skill, people still often inaccurately perceive others' emotions.

This US study suggests that relying on a combination of vocal and facial cues, or solely facial cues, may not be the best strategy for accurately recognizing the emotions or intentions of others.

Research on emotion recognition began with studies testing the recognition of facial expressions cross-culturally. More recent research reveals that power of other senses to accurately communicate emotions.

It has been shown that touching the forearm of a stranger can communicate a range of emotions. Studies also show that voice, including both speech content and vocal cues (such as pitch, speed, volume), is a particularly powerful channel to perceive emotions.

For example, it was found that even just vocal bursts without language are sufficient to accurately communicate emotions. In another research, a panel of judges were able to accurately determine the social status of group of speakers from across the US, based only on hearing them spoke the same 7 words without context (such as ‘thought’, ‘yellow’).

The study

In this Yale University study, a series of five experiments involving more than 1,800 participants was conducted. Participants were only able to listen and not look, or look but not listen, or both look and listen.

In each experiment, individuals were asked either to interact with another person or were presented with an interaction between two others. In one case, participants listened to a computerized voice reading a transcript of an interaction - a condition without the usual emotional inflection of human communication.

Across all five experiments, individuals who only listened without observing were able, on average, to identify more accurately the emotions being experienced by others.


Since much of the research on emotional recognition has focused on the role of facial cues, these findings open a new area for research. The researcher, Michael Kraus, suggests that studying vocalizations of emotion should be more emphasised.

"Listening matters," he said. "Actually considering what people are saying and the ways in which they say it can, I believe, lead to improved understanding of others at work or in your personal relationships."

There are two possible reasons why voice-only is superior to combined communication. One is that we have more practice using facial expressions to mask emotions. The other is that more information may actually be distracting.

The American Psychological Association is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the US and includes nearly 115,700 members.


Kraus, M (2017) Voice-Only Communication Enhances Empathic Accuracy, J of American Psychologist 2017, 72:7, 644-654, published online Oct. 10, 2017, doi:


The American Psychological Association website:

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