People convey emotions clearer and faster through sounds than words, according to a study. Apparently, it only takes the brain one-tenth of a second to recognize emotions through vocalization because the brain’s older system prefers to process emotion expressed this way.

The research adds that humans pay more attention to emotions such as laughter and cries when expressed through sounds. They believe that the speed and preference to process were vital in decoding vocal sounds that has been a part of human survival.

Lead author Marc Pell, director of McGill’s School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, said that the identification of emotional vocalization are due to the systems in the brain that are older in evolutionary terms while the expression of spoken language involves more recent brain systems, which have developed as human language grew.

The study involved focusing on three basic emotions: anger, happiness and sadness. The researchers asked 24 participants to identify the emotions conveyed by a random mix of nonsense speech and vocalizations.

Through studying the participants’ brain responses with an EEG, the experts were able to measure how the brain responds to emotions expressed through vocalizations compared to spoken language with millisecond precision. It also looked at what emotions are recognized faster and whether anxious people are sensitive to emotional voices.

The team discovered that the participants detected vocalizations of happiness or laughter more quickly than anger or sadness. However, angry sounds and speech produced brain activity that lingered longer than other emotions, indicating that the brain gives anger signals special attention. Additionally, people who are more anxious respond faster to emotional voices than the less anxious ones.

“Vocalizations appear to have the advantage of conveying meaning in a more immediate way than speech,” Pell claimed. “Our findings are consistent with studies of non-human primates which suggest that vocalizations that are specific to a species are treated preferentially by the neural system over other sounds.”