How It Was Said: Pitch and the Perceived Valence of Words

Hayden Barber, Purdue University


Research on metaphors has established a relationship between the verticality, brightness, and distance of stimuli and affect. This project expands the literature on metaphors by exploring the connection between pitch and valence. Specifically, the pitch-valence hypothesis assumes that people tend to say positive words in a higher pitch than negative words and that receivers of spoken messages associate higher pitches with positive valence. Two studies were conducted to test the pitch-valence hypothesis. The first analyzed how participants produce positively and negatively valenced words but found no significant difference in how participants used pitch to produce negative vs. positive words. The second study recorded participants’ reaction times in identifying positive and negative words in high and low pitches to see whether the pitch of a word significantly affected their response latency and accuracy and found some support for gender impacting participants’ ability to associate high pitches with positive words and low pitches with negative words.




Reimer, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Linguistics|Communication|Cognitive psychology

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