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December 1961

The Sounds of Emotional Disturbance

Author Affiliations

Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, University of California School of Medicine, and Attending Psychiatrist, Langley Porter Neuropsychiatric Institute.

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1961;5(6):587-592. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1961.01710180071008

Sounds communicate emotions. This observation has been made by psychiatrists, musicians, and poets throughout history, and is repeated by every mother who listens to her baby. The purpose of this paper is to define the phenomenon, and to present evidence for the existence of specific acoustic signals that transmit information about emotional disturbance.

The Study of Human Sounds  That sick people produce tell-tale acoustic signals was known to healers in primitive societies and to the earliest scientific investigators. Ancients wove the noises associated with illness into their myths and primitive rites5; physicians recognized groans, rattles, coughs, wheezing, and other diagnostic signs.10 Accurate verbal description of these sounds was difficult, however, and taxed the onomatopoeic vocabulary of even the greatest poets.14 Since words never did full justice to the actual sounds of disturbed persons, music took over the task of portraying

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