Laughter catches attention!

Ana P. Pinheiro, Carla Barros, Marcelo Dias, Sonja A. Kotz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In social interactions, emotionally salient and sudden changes in vocal expressions attract attention. However, only a few studies examined how emotion and attention interact in voice processing. We investigated neutral, happy (laughs) and angry (growls) vocalizations in a modified oddball task. Participants silently counted the targets in each block and rated the valence and arousal of the vocalizations. A combined event-related potential and time-frequency analysis focused on the P3 and pre-stimulus alpha power to capture attention effects in response to unexpected events. Whereas an early differentiation between emotionally salient and neutral vocalizations was reflected in the P3a response, the P3b was selectively enhanced for happy voices. The P3b modulation was predicted by pre-stimulus frontal alpha desynchronization, and by the perceived pleasantness of the targets. These findings indicate that vocal emotions may be differently processed based on task relevance and valence. Increased anticipation and attention to positive vocal cues (laughter) may reflect their high social relevance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11-21
Number of pages11
JournalBiological Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017


  • Alpha power
  • Attention
  • EEG
  • Emotion
  • P3
  • Voice


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