The development of cross-cultural recognition of vocal emotion during childhood and adolescence

Georgia Chronaki, Michael Wigelsworth, Marc D. Pell, Sonja A. Kotz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Humans have an innate set of emotions recognised universally. However, emotion recognition also depends on socio-cultural rules. Although adults recognise vocal emotions universally, they identify emotions more accurately in their native language. We examined developmental trajectories of universal vocal emotion recognition in children. Eighty native English speakers completed a vocal emotion recognition task in their native language (English) and foreign languages (Spanish, Chinese, and Arabic) expressing anger, happiness, sadness, fear, and neutrality. Emotion recognition was compared across 8-to-10, 11-to-13-year-olds, and adults. Measures of behavioural and emotional problems were also taken. Results showed that although emotion recognition was above chance for all languages, native English speaking children were more accurate in recognising vocal emotions in their native language. There was a larger improvement in recognising vocal emotion from the native language during adolescence. Vocal anger recognition did not improve with age for the non-native languages. This is the first study to demonstrate universality of vocal emotion recognition in children whilst supporting an “in-group advantage” for more accurate recognition in the native language. Findings highlight the role of experience in emotion recognition, have implications for child development in modern multicultural societies and address important theoretical questions about the nature of emotions.
Original languageEnglish
Article number8659
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Early online date14 Jun 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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