Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Emily Myers, Deborah Fein

Field of Study



Master of Arts

Open Access

Open Access


Emotions are conveyed primarily through two channels in language: semantics and prosody. Language comprehension relies on the ability to both decode the intended semantic meaning of a phrase and to go beyond its literal meaning to understand the emotional state of a speaker. While many studies confirm the role of a left hemisphere network in processing semantic emotion, there has been debate in the field over the role of the right hemisphere in processing prosodic emotion. Some evidence suggests a preferential role for the right hemisphere, and other evidence supports a bilateral model. The relative contributions of each channel to the overall processing of affect in language are largely unexplored. Poor comprehension of emotional prosody is considered a hallmark of autism spectrum disorders and has been attributed to deficits in empathy or mind reading abilities. The present work describes two studies of affective language processing. The first used functional magnetic resonance imaging to elucidate the neural bases of processing prosodic and semantic anger. The second study probed relationships between individual differences in autism-like personality features, trait empathy, and sensitivity to anger cues in speech. Results of the first study showed a robust, distributed, bilateral network for processing angry prosody and a more modest left hemisphere network for processing angry semantics. Findings suggest the nervous system may be more tuned to prosodic cues in speech. The second study revealed a negative relationship between autism-like traits and sensitivity to prosodic valence. Consequently, some features common to autism spectrum disorder appear to confer a disadvantage in the neurobehavioral system that serves prosodic processing.

Major Advisor

Inge-Marie Eigsti