Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society

Research Articles

Recognizing vocal expressions of emotion in patients with social skills deficits following traumatic brain injury

A. DIMOSKAa1, S. MCDONALDa1 c1, M.C. PELLa2, R.L. TATEa3 and C.M. JAMESa1

a1 School of Psychology, University of New South Wales, Kensington 2052 NSW, Australia

a2 School of Communication Sciences & Disorders, McGill University, Montreal Quebec H3G 1A8, Canada

a3 Rehabilitation Studies Unit, Northern Central Clinical School, University of Sydney, Sydney 2006 NSW, Australia


Perception of emotion in voice is impaired following traumatic brain injury (TBI). This study examined whether an inability to concurrently process semantic information (the “what”) and emotional prosody (the “how”) of spoken speech contributes to impaired recognition of emotional prosody and whether impairment is ameliorated when little or no semantic information is provided. Eighteen individuals with moderate-to-severe TBI showing social skills deficits during inpatient rehabilitation were compared with 18 demographically matched controls. Participants completed two discrimination tasks using spoken sentences that varied in the amount of semantic information: that is, (1) well-formed English, (2) a nonsense language, and (3) low-pass filtered speech producing “muffled” voices. Reducing semantic processing demands did not improve perception of emotional prosody. The TBI group were significantly less accurate than controls. Impairment was greater within the TBI group when accessing semantic memory to label the emotion of sentences, compared with simply making “same/different” judgments. Findings suggest an impairment of processing emotional prosody itself rather than semantic processing demands which leads to an over-reliance on the “what” rather than the “how” in conversational remarks. Emotional recognition accuracy was significantly related to the ability to inhibit prepotent responses, consistent with neuroanatomical research suggesting similar ventrofrontal systems subserve both functions. (JINS, 2010, 16, 369–382.)

(Received July 14 2009)

(Reviewed December 15 2009)

(Accepted December 17 2009)


c1 Correspondence and reprint requests to: Skye McDonald, School of Psychology, University of NSW, Kensington NSW 2052, Australia. E-mail: