In "Wow…?", 7/17/2011, I presented 10 isolated examples of "wow" or "oh wow" from published telephone conversations, and invited readers to judge the intensity and valence of each of the ten items (where "valence" is taken to mean the speaker's apparent negative or positive evaluation of the situation under discussion). There were 56 usable responses — I discarded another 5 or 6 because of problems like 9 or 11 judgments instead of 10. I've done some simple analysis, described below.
The 56 sets of usable responses were well differentiated and fairly consistent: people evaluated these utterances in a lawful way. This kind of survey has promise as a source of input for efforts to learn the mapping between acoustic properties and human responses.
There's no obvious independent check on the "intensity" judgments, so the main question was how consistent they would be. In the case of the "valence" judgments, we can also look at the context to see how the speakers seems to be evaluating the state of affairs that they're responding to.
Here's a plot of the mean intensity and valence responses to the ten test items (item 10 is coded as "0" for graphical convenience):
Here are the values, with standard errors:
|Item||Mean I||Std Error||Mean V||Std Error|
As several respondents observed, there's an obvious correlation between intensity and valence estimates. Specifically, the correlation between the mean intensity and mean valence responses is r=0.69 — but there seems to be some additional structure in there as well.
For a more graphical presentation of the location and differentiation of the responses, here's a plot of 100 "bootstrap" re-estimates of the means:
Now let's look at — and listen to — the contexts. All of these examples came from the Switchboard collection, which comprises about 2,400 two-sided telephone conversations among 543 speakers from all areas of the United States. These calls were recorded by Texas Instruments in 1990-1, under DARPA sponsorship, and distributed by the Linguistic Data Consortium starting in 1992-3.
(1) From sw02153. This is a discussion of paying for college. A's husband went to Notre Dame; B went to Wisconsin, and was able to pay off his loans within two years; A is (positively) impressed by this financial success.
A: well we're still writing checks for the loans for Notre Dame
B: um-hum yeah i'm sure that that's uh it's not uh cheap either
A: but he's really happy he went there
B: well that's good
B: i i got uh by with the minimal amount of financial aid and was able to pay it all off within two years of graduation
(2) From sw02201. This is a discussion of the bad consequences of failing a drug test at work. B tells the story of someone who failed a drug test due to taking prescription medicine; and was suspended without pay during obligatory counseling; A is (negatively) impressed by the financial consequences of this situation.
A: oh i didn't know they took you off the job.
B: i was that i was told that uh somebody had uh some woman had had a cold or something and had some cough medicine prescribed and her husband or maybe the other way around one of them anyway had uh come down with the same thing and used some of the medicine and was tested the next day and failed and was out of a job until he went through counseling
B: and it's like you know i can't afford that kind of loss of income you know
A: who can afford that my God i can't afford to miss a day let alone ((six))
B: i mean i'm like then yeah the first time so what i'll go explain myself and
(3) From sw02273. This is a discussion of spending time with children. B explains that his son is off on a world trip, and has been gone for seven months; A is impressed by this long period of separation. The evaluation is negative, in that it reminds him that he didn't spend enough time with his own children, though perhaps there is some positive evaluation of the child's enterprise and independence.
B: uh my oldest son he's uh out seeing the world right now he's in australia at the present time
A: so you don't get a chance to to spend much time with him then until when he comes home
B: well he's yeah he's been gone for about seven months now we're expecting him to be getting home here before too much longer hopefully
A: i uh unfortunately didn't spend enough time with my children uh where i i had a lot of things that i thought that i needed to do that were more important than than spending time with my children in fact when they were younger
(4) From sw02274. Two women are commiserating about health care costs. B notes that her out-of-pocket medical expenses, not covered by her health plan, were big enough to itemize on her tax return; A's "wow" registers appreciation for this bad situation.
B: you know i'm thinking of you know i ((was)) just doing my tax return for last year
B: you know if your medical bills are more than a certain percent of your income
B: you know it's worthwhile to itemize and and last year i was the first year we reached that mark
A: oh you did
B: where my medical where it was worth it to itemize for medical expenses
B: because they were just they were that much of a percentage of my income
B:that it just
B: you know i just did it it's very frustrating a hot topic for me
A: i know well well you know you're not the only one though um i'm in a situation where when I started my job …
(5) From sw0231. It's a discussion of hobbies; B makes clothes, and has made clothes for weddings; this positively impresses A.
A: what do you do?
B: well i sew
B: clothes you know
B: that's like a hobby because i don't ever make anybody nothing but me
B: or maybe little kids i've i've done weddings but
A: oh wow
B: not no- not big weddings like you know
B: big big weddings just bridemaids' dresses and stuff like that for people that i know
(6) Again from sw02317. The same two women are discussing ballooning. A is positively impressed by the size of the Albuquerque balloon festival.
A: what about that one they do in Albuquerque
B: now that's old that is that is the largest
A: yeah that's the oldest one isn't it
B: yeah that's the largest one in the world they they have over six hundred balloons
(7) From sw02390. In a discussion of credit cards, B talks about a store credit card with a very high interest rate, and A is (negatively) impressed by the rate.
A: credit cards almost seem unfair to a person who's who's got a victim of impulse buying
B: oh yeah store credit cards
A: like unfair advertising or something
B: store credit cards are even higher interest rate than say Master Card or Visa
B: because i i had a i had a Neiman Marcus card for a while
B: and i used it once and then i cut up because the interest rate was like almost twenty three percent
A: oh wow
B: so i i cut i cut that thing up
(8) From sw02430. In a discussion of automobile maintenance, A is (positively) impressed that B replaced a timing chain.
A: well what is it that you prefer to provide as far as maintenance on your vehicle
B: i do all my own maintenance matter of fact i just finished putting a timing chain in my wife's Toyota
A: wow how about that
B:i do i do all of that myself
(9) Again from sw02430. Six minutes later, B continues to impress. His interlocutor may be a bit wowed out at this point…
B: and i even lubricate the car myself
B: because i have a i have means of of running it up on on jack stands and and you know i have a creeper and i crawl around underneath it so it's not a big deal
(10) From sw02517. Discussing cats. A is (positively) impressed by the fact that a four-month-old kitten weighs five and a half pounds.
B: but this one is almost all black she's black and chocolate and silver
A: hum she sounds really pretty
B: hm she is she she's gorgeous she
A: how old is she
B: she is four months old
A: well she's just a tiny little thing they're adorable at that age too
B: hum five and a half pounds
B: she's uh laying right in front of my keyboard here on the desk right now
The valence judgments were roughly as consistent across listeners as the intensity judgments were, but we can see that this consensus doesn't correspond consistently to the implicit content of the context the utterances came from. There's apparently some signal there, but it seems that listeners are influenced by the perceived intensity. Wows where the speaker seems animated and aroused tend to be interpreted as positive in valence, while low-intensity wows tend to strike listeners as emotionally negative.
I should also note again the obvious fact that the prosodic and emotional landscapes are much more complex than the aspects this little experiment tried to address. But I'll leave the rest of the discussion to the comments for now.