Words can deceive, but tone of voice cannot

A new computer algorithm can predict whether you and your spouse will have an improved or worsened relationship based on the tone of voice that you use when speaking to each other with nearly 79 percent accuracy.

In fact, the algorithm did a better job of predicting marital success of couples with serious marital issues than descriptions of the therapy sessions provided by relationship experts. The research was published in Proceedings of Interspeech on September 6, 2015.

Researchers recorded hundreds of conversations from over one hundred couples taken during marriage therapy sessions over two years, and then tracked their marital status for five years.

An interdisciplinary team .then developed an algorithm that broke the recordings into acoustic features using speech-processing techniques. These included pitch, intensity, “jitter” and “shimmer” among many – things like tracking warbles in the voice that can indicate moments of high emotion.

Taken together, the vocal acoustic features offered the team’s program a proxy for the subject’s communicative state, and the changes to that state over the course of a single therapy and across therapy sessions.

These features weren’t analyzed in isolation – rather, the impact of one partner upon the other over multiple therapy sessions was studied.

Once it was fine-tuned, the program was then tested against behavioral analyses made by human experts ‹ who had coded them for positive qualities like “acceptance” or negative qualities like “blame”. The team found that studying voice directly – rather than the expert-created behavioral codes – offered a more accurate glimpse at a couple’s future.

Next, using behavioral signal processing, the team plans to use language (e.g., spoken words) and nonverbal information (e.g., body language) to improve the prediction of how effective treatments will be.

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