The Language of Interpersonal Interaction: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Assessing and Processing Vocal and Speech Data

Sarah Weusthoff, Garren Gaut, Mark Steyvers, David C. Atkins, Kurt Hahlweg, Jasara Hogan, Tanja Zimmermann, Melanie S. Fischer, Donald H. Baucom, Panayiotis Georgiou, Shrikanth Narayanan, Brian R. Baucom


Verbal and non-verbal information is central to social interaction between humans and has been studied intensively in psychology. Especially, dyadic interactions (e.g. between romantic partners or between psychotherapist and patient) are relevant for a number of psychological research areas. However, psychological methods applied so far have not been able to handle the vast amount of data resulting from human interactions, impeding scientific discovery and progress. This paper presents an interdisciplinary approach using technology from engineering and computer science to work with continuous data from human communication and interaction on the verbal (e.g. use of words, content) and non-verbal (e.g. vocal features of the human voice) level. Text-mining techniques such as topic models take into account the semantic and syntactic information of written text (such as therapy session transcripts) and its structure and intercorrelations. Speech signal processing focuses on the vocal information in a speaker’s voice (e.g. based on audio- or videotaped interactions). For both areas, an introduction defining the respective method and related procedures, and sample applications from psychological publications complementing or generating behavioral codes (e.g. in addition to cardiovascular indices of arousal or as a form to encode empathy) are provided. We close with a summary on the opportunities and challenges of learning and applying tools from the novel approaches described in this manuscript to different areas of psychological research and provide the interested reader with a list of additional readings on the technical aspects of topic modeling and speech signal processing.


fundamental frequency; topic models; arousal; behavioral signal processing; dyadic interaction; communication