Acoustic salience in emotional voice perception and its relationship with hallucination proneness

Abstract

Auditory verbal hallucinations (AVH) are reported in approximately 70% of psychotic patients, but they also may occur in approximately 10% of the healthy general population. AVH have been related to altered processing of vocal emotions at both sensory and higher-order processing stages in psychotic patients. However, it remains to be clarified whether individuals with high hallucination proneness (HP) exhibit a similar pattern of alterations. We investigated the impact of HP on vocal emotional perception and specified whether manipulations of acoustic cues, such as sound intensity and duration, related to salience changes, affect the time course of voice processing reflected in event-related potentials (ERP) of the electroencephalogram. Participants varying in HP performed a task involving the categorization of emotional nonverbal vocalizations (neutral, anger, and amusement) differing in duration and intensity. ERP results demonstrated interactive effects of HP, valence, and acoustic cues on both early (N1, P2) and late (Late Positive Potential [LPP]) processing stages. Higher HP was associated with decreased N1 and increased P2 amplitudes in response to louder and longer neutral (vs. positive) vocalizations, as well as with a larger LPP to louder and longer negative (vs. neutral) vocalizations. These findings suggest that HP is associated with changes in the processing of vocal emotions that might be related to altered salience of acoustic representations of emotions. Consistent with prior studies with psychotic patients, these findings show that altered perception of vocal emotions may additionally contribute to the experience of hallucinations in nonclinical samples.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The hypotheses of the current study were tested with mixed-effects models. Because the best procedure to determine sample size when using mixed-effects modeling remains to be specified (Maas & Hox, 2005; McNeish & Stapleton, 2016), sample size was determined based on previous studies probing the effects of HP measured with the LSHS (e.g., N = 20 – Bentall & Slade, 1985; N = 32 – Pinheiro et al., 2018; N = 40 – van't Wout, Aleman, Kessels, Larøi, & Kahn, 2004; N = 42 – Vercammen & Aleman, 2010).

  2. 2.

    In an exploratory analysis, we probed whether the ERP responses were modulated by the emotional content of AVH assessed with the PSYRATS. These effects were tested in the nine participants who more frequently reported hearing voices based on the LSHS items specifically tapping into AVH (i.e., “I have been troubled by hearing voices in my head.” “In the past, I have had the experience of hearing a person’s voice and then found that no one was there.” “I often hear a voice speaking my thoughts aloud.”) and follow-up questions (“It occurs to me very rarely. It occurs to me very often.”). The N1, P2, and LPP responses to vocal emotions showed no effects of the emotional content of AVH (p > 0.05).

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Acknowledgments

The authors are grateful to all participants who took part in this study.

Funding

This work was supported by a Doctoral Grant SFRH/BD/92772/2013 awarded to PC, and by Grants IF/00334/2012, PTDC/MHN-PCN/3606/2012, and PTDC/MHC-PCN/0101/2014 awarded to APP. These Grants were funded by the Science and Technology Foundation (Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia - FCT, Portugal) and FEDER (European Regional Development Fund) through the European programs QREN (National Strategic Reference Framework) and COMPETE (Operational Programme “Thematic Factors of Competitiveness”).

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AP conceived and designed the study. PC collected, analyzed, and interpreted the data and produced the drafting of the manuscript. AP supervised all steps in the study and provided a critical revision of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Ana P. Pinheiro.

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No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.

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None of the data reported here is available, and none of the experiments was preregistered. The stimuli used (vocalizations) are presented as supplementary material.

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Castiajo, P., Pinheiro, A.P. Acoustic salience in emotional voice perception and its relationship with hallucination proneness. Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci (2021). https://doi.org/10.3758/s13415-021-00864-2

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Keywords

  • Auditory verbal hallucinations
  • Hallucination proneness
  • Event-related potentials
  • Emotion
  • Voice