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I resent your tone of voice!

Although there can be too much generalization out there about being either right-brained or emotional beings, or left-brained logical beings, one thing seems clear to neuroscience: we default to prosody, or tone of voice, over the semantic meaning of words when push comes to shove. As babies we need to understand tone of voice before we have the ability to understand the meaning of words in order to identify safety from danger.  These aspects of speech recognition happen bi-laterally, meaning they DO follow a marked difference between the right and left hemispheres of the brain.

The left side of our temporal lobe in the left hemisphere has two basic speech centers. One is called Broca’s towards the front of the lobe, and it’s responsible for our communication of words.  The other one on the left side is Wernicke’s towards the back of the lobe.  This is responsible for understanding the semantics we receive or want to output.  These two areas are different in our right hemisphere although they are located in mirror-image locations.  brainhemispheresThe speech area in the front of the temporal lobe on the right is responsible for our tone of voice and emotional inflections when we speak.  The area towards the back of the right temporal lobe is responsible for our understanding someone’s tone of voice and the emotional content it conveys.  For example, our ability to understand sarcasm depends on the right side speech centers.

When we are listening to others we tend to default to prosody to help us understand the truth of the context, using our ability to detect emotional content to “see through” literal words.  Consider which you believe, the meaning of the words or the tone, if that competitive person in your life uses sarcasm to congratulate you on a win? What information do you detect when your spouse uses neutral language with a tone of anger, disdain or disgust? We default to our interpretation of prosody to navigate information presented to us.

In what ways can you begin to notice your own prosody when you are in difficult situations?

Enjoy this video of singer Lisa Gerard using a made up language to deliver emotional content to your right hemisphere. [embedplusvideo height=”450″ width=”450″ editlink=”” standard=”″ vars=”ytid=BoXsxYf2UMA&width=450&height=450&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep2979″ /]

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