Vocal perception is particularly important for understanding a speaker's emotional state and intentions because, unlike facial perception, it is relatively independent of speaker distance and viewing conditions. The idea, derived from brain lesion studies, that vocal emotional comprehension is a special domain of the right hemisphere has failed to receive consistent support from neuroimaging. This conflict can be reconciled if vocal emotional comprehension is viewed as a multi-step process with individual neural representations. This view reveals a processing chain that proceeds from the ventral auditory pathway to brain structures implicated in cognition and emotion. Thus, vocal emotional comprehension appears to be mediated by bilateral mechanisms anchored within sensory, cognitive and emotional processing systems. © 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.