“Are you familiar with TSpace?” asks Dr. Kathy Pichora-Fuller, professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. TSpace is the University of Toronto’s institutional academic repository. Blue map markers pop up on an automated world map representing individuals around the globe accessing TSpace—one in China, another one in Iraq, and about seven across North America. There are thirteen altogether. I know, because a widget on the University of Toronto’s website shows me live updates. “13 TSpace real time downloads since 11/14/2019, 3:02:54 p.m.,” the update reads. It is currently 3:05 p.m..
One of these location bubble markers reads Memphis, United States. The individual living in Memphis is accessing research in the Toronto Emotional Speech Set (TESS), a dataset available on TSpace.
“There is a general finding in psychology [that] older adults are not as good at perceiving emotions. We know this to be true for visual stimuli,” says Pichora-Fuller. Pichora-Fuller conducts research on auditory aging, and along with Ph.D. student Kate Dupuis, she designed and conducted the research project that created TESS. “Kate Dupuis wanted to record some findings. The motivating question was [whether] older people [could] recognize auditory emotion as well as younger people.”
The dataset TESS is composed of 2,800 audio files. The audio files were produced by two Toronto female actors who were asked to recite two hundred words expressing the seven cardinal emotions. In 2010, the year the stimuli were recorded, the actors were 26 and 64 years old respectively.
The recordings were used to conduct Pichora-Fuller and Dupuis’ research on how emotion affects one’s understanding. “Through the research, we found that strong emotions such as fear and pleasant surprise make you remember better. Memory is strongly linked to understanding,” Pichora-Fuller says.
The TESS has become the most popular dataset in UTM’s collection on TSpace. “It was something that Mary Atkinson discovered. About 87 per cent of UTM’s TSpace traffic is people trying to access TESS,” says Pichora-Fuller.
Mary Atkinson-Lu, the UTM Library’s Digital Scholarship Technician, processes requests for access to the TESS dataset. “We receive requests from all over the world, sometimes three to four times a week,” she says. Requests have arrived from other notable universities such as Harvard University, large corporations such as Samsung, and global researchers.
The research is vital for global corporations, or “industrial researchers” as Pichora-Fuller calls them. For industrial researchers, one of the main attractions of the dataset is its application in machine learning and artificial intelligence.
“These are very well-documented emotions. They could help [industrial researchers] see if artificial intelligence and machines can recognize emotions. [They] could help teach emotional recognition in machine learning.”
Pichora-Fuller is currently in the midst of finishing her last teaching term at UTM. In her own career, her findings with TESS have assisted her research in her careers with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration in Aging, and the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging.
“The way I think about it is [that] we need to take the research that we’ve been collecting for the past couple of decades and put it out there for use in research into things like dementia,” remarks Pichora-Fuller.
I watch the blue location markers continue popping up on the TSpace website. Budapest, Hungary; Accra, Ghana; Beijing, China—TESS has had 23,764 downloaders in November alone. India ranks as the country with the highest number of TESS viewers. Russia, South Korea, and the United Kingdom also make the list.
“Putting these stimuli on TSpace is one way we’re doing that: making research available out of the lab and allowing it to create change in the real world.”