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Children across cultures respond emotionally to the acoustic environment

Cite this dataset

Ma, Weiyi; Zhou, Peng; Thompson, William (2021). Children across cultures respond emotionally to the acoustic environment [Dataset]. Dryad.


Among human and non-human animals, the ability to respond rapidly to biologically significant events in the environment is essential for survival and development. Research has confirmed that human adult listeners respond emotionally to environmental sounds just as they understand the emotional connotations of speech prosody and music. However, it is unknown whether young children also respond emotionally to environmental sounds. Here, we report that changes in pitch, rate (i.e., playback speed), and intensity (i.e., amplitude) of environmental sounds trigger emotional responses in 4- and 5-year-old children, including sounds of human actions, animal calls, machinery, or natural phenomena such as wind and waves. This phenomenon was observed for children from the United States and China – countries with drastically different cultural traditions. We discuss theoretical frameworks that predict convergent emotional responses to music, speech, and environmental sounds, focusing on Charles Darwin’s hypothesis that speech and music originated from a common emotional signal system based on the imitation and modification of environmental sounds.