Researchers have developed a digital audio platform that can modify the tone of the people who are talking, making them sound happier, sadder or fearful.

The interface of the software the team developed. Aucouturier et al.

It seems pretty surprising that we don’t know exactly what defines our emotional tone. In other words, we don’t know exactly what makes us sound happy, angry or nervous. Furthermore, we don’t really know how the tone we use influences ourselves; one of the first thing researchers observed was that the participants’ mood changed when they listened to their own, altered voices.

“Very little is known about the mechanisms behind the production of vocal emotion”, says lead author Jean-Julien Aucouturier from the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), France.

“Previous research has suggested that people try to manage and control their emotions, for example hold back an expression or reappraise feelings. We wanted to investigate what kind of awareness people have of their own emotional expressions.”

Aucouturier et al.

The study reports that participants were unaware that their voices were manipulated and didn’t realize this was happening even after listening to the recording. This seems to indicate that they weren’t even aware of the subtleties of their tone.

“The relationship between the expression and experience of emotions has been a long-standing topic of disagreement in the field of psychology”, says Petter Johansson, one of the authors from Lund University, Sweden. “This is the first evidence of direct feedback effects on emotional experience in the auditory domain.”

The voice manipulation was done through algorithms that simulate distinct characteristics of our emotional vocalizations. This has been done before, but only on pre-recorded speeches – doing it on live speech is considerably more difficult.

“Previously, this kind of emotion manipulation has not been done on running speech, only on recorded segments”, explains Jean-Julien Aucouturier. “We are making a version of the voice manipulation platform available as open-source on our website, and we invite anyone to download and experiment with the tools.”

You can read more about this platform and experiment with it yourself here. Developped by Dr Marco Liuni and members of the CREAM Neuroscience Lab at Computer music center IRCAM in Paris (France), DAVID is open source, and it can transform your voice in real time. Named after Talking Heads’ frontman David Byrne, who was one of the early participants in the study, DAVID has a lot of potential applications – including in therapy. Because people’s moods can be influenced by how they hear themselves, therapists could record your voice, make you sound happier, and in turn that could actually make you feel happier.