Monday, August 18, 2008

all you need to do is pay attention

Depressed? We can tell by your voice, academics say.

Dr Lech's computer program is scanning through the voice data, using pattern recognition techniques to seek telltale "harmonics" unique to a depressed person's voice. It can detect harmonics related to seven different emotions, including fear, excitement or anxiety...

Professor Allen said the research was at an early stage but showed great promise. "In clinical work, the voice is often one of the first things you notice (in depressed patients)," he said.

"I can tell with my patients on the phone, sometimes after only a few words, how they are going. You can hear a flatness, a tension coming through. The voice changes very dramatically when they are depressed."


This is called listening.

I find it upsetting and a little disgusting that there is room for demand that such a voice-reading program exist. We're all creatures of conversation, even me, Little Miss Hermit Crab, have enough and sit through enough conversations in a day to understand that the dialogue is only part of the whole interaction. Facial inflection, louder body language, pauses for consideration, the words you choose, the words you don't choose, and how you say what you say make the whole. These things make a face to face conversation so much more meaningful than some quick IM of txt speak, and even a hand written letter.

We all read these things. All you need to do in order to understand them is pay attention.

No one should ever need a computer to tell them what is contained in another person's voice.


  1. I guess sometimes depression can sound like tiredness, or vice-versa. To me, voices often sound more depressed on the phone than face to face. I don't know if phones have a flattening effect.
    I don't think anything beats face to face. Although, I have to say, I have a lot of trouble gauging the mood of my Japanese students. Maybe their culture teaches them to have more conscious control over facial muscles, or maybe there are cues I'm missing. I have to keep reminding myself that a smile doesn't always mean happiness, or even irony, in some cultures. My smile-reading equipment is probably not as refined as theirs.

  2. This is weird and mostly just wrong. =/

  3. Well, there's bound to be cultural interference when reading emotions in other people. Whereas in western cultures the normal practice is to say 'i'm upset', it's my understanding the opposite is true in Japan.

    Which is not to say that they are hiding their emotions, they merely do not state them outloud, and emotional communication is more about what is not said, ie, you should be able to intuit their emotions without being told. Which would lead to a much more complex encoding of emotions.