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Re: pesky cultural factors in perception of environmental sounds


In my work I have not really looked at cultural factors, since the subject population I have used tends to be rather homogenous.  I have found differences between elderly and young listeners in terms of their preferences for certain sounds, e.g., the young tended to think of a jet sound as a prototypical airplane sound whereas the elderly preferred the sound of a prop airplane, which may count as an "enculturation difference" if not a purely cultural one.

Valeriy and I have also looked at the effects of context on perception of environmental sounds, and how the expectations afforded by a situation affect identifiability of congruent or incongruent (short conclusion:  under certain listening conditions, incongruent sounds are more readily perceived).  This reflects, I believe, the tendency we have to group expected sounds into a single background, which is of course part of our cultural upbringing.

Gygi, B. & Shafiro, V

The Incongruency Advantage for Environmental Sounds Presented in Natural Auditory Scenes

This piece is in press at the Journal of Experiemental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance - hopefully not in the queue for too long
Brian Gygi, Ph.D.
Speech and Hearing Research
Veterans Affairs Northern California Health Care System
150 Muir Road
Martinez, CA 94553
(925) 372-2000 x5653
-----Original Message-----
From: Milena Droumeva [mailto:mvdroume@xxxxxx]
Sent: Tuesday, May 18, 2010 10:30 AM
To: AUDITORY@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: Re: sex differences in perception of environmental sounds

Dear all, 

rather than having some hard evidence to offer, I see this important discussion as a way to keep the conversation going and wanted to just express an opinion on the definition of "environmental sounds" and other confounding factors about the perception of environmental sounds that I believe defy a bit direct comparisons of basic human differences such as sex, even age, etc. 

My familiarity and work with environmental sounds comes from some years of work as a sound designer and auditory display designer where I've taken "environmental sounds" and used them as basis for designing informational displays, as well as continuous feedback. I also have a background in acoustic ecology of the R.M. Schafer kind (if any of you are familiar)

I have to admit I am surprised to learn that in the psychology area there is an established definition of environmental sounds, given - and here is my "opinion" point - the highly culturally defined and specific nature of environmental sound perception. The example of baby crying is just too easy to pick on, but I will anyway - it could be argued that this is a highly particular sound, laden with cultural meaning and habituation. Before it can be reduced to sex differences, must we not recognize that not only parents vs. non-parents would naturally have an elevated sensitivity to it, as it is meaningful, but also women, even non-parents - get socialized in almost every culture - to think of themselves as potential mothers, and thus might, again, be more sensitive to a sound of baby crying. To me, this does not imply biology and primary psychology (that is, sex differences in perception) - it implies cultural habituation. 

This can be said for many, seemingly "innocent" and everyday/familiar environmental sounds - and I am curios, based on this discussion - are any of these other confounding factors (pesky cultural ones) being taken into account in any way in the psychoacoustic field?

Further - is any difference being made in the definition of environmental sounds between human, mechanical, electronic, electroacoustic and digital sound?

Thank you for entertaining my concerns - I just think this is a really important discussion to have here!


On Mon, May 17, 2010 at 11:11 PM, Brian Gygi <bgygi@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:


Although no formal body has ruled on the topic, in the past several years the term "environmental sounds" has acquired a relatively stable definition - namely familiar, naturally occurring sounds that refer to  physical sources in the environment.  There is of course some ambiguity regarding precisely what fits into this category, i.e., do musical instruments count, whose primary function is acoustic conveyance of aesthetic attributes rather than sound source specification?  In any case,tThis is the definition I and others have taken in our work and what I assume Joanna meant.  If not I hope she will let us know.

Brian Gygi, Ph.D.
Speech and Hearing Research
Veterans Affairs Northern California Health Care System
150 Muir Road
Martinez, CA 94553
(925) 372-2000 x5653
-----Original Message-----
From: David Mountain [mailto:dcm@xxxxxx]
Sent: Monday, May 17, 2010 08:06 PM
To: AUDITORY@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: Re: sex differences in perception of environmental sounds

I think that before we can address this question, we need to define what we mean by "environmental sounds."

On Mon, May 17, 2010 at 10:47 AM, valeriy shafiro <firosha@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:
Dear Joanna,

As far as I know across the studies of environmental sound perception
in the last 20-30 years none was designed specifically to examine
male/female differences.  Results from studies that looked at
identification of large collections of different types of
environmental sounds also did not find any differences, although in a
recent study on environmental sound identification within contextually
congruent and incongruent auditory scenes, Brian Gygi and I, saw an
overall identification difference between males and females, but it
was small (3-4 points) and non significant.  It is conceivable that
given a large variety of familiar environmental sounds tested in these
studies, whatever differences there may be between males and females
are obscured, and that for a set of specific sounds there are may be
sex differeces in behavioral of physiologic measures (e.g. baby
crying).  While not specifically targeting environmental sounds, John
Neuhoff did find some interesting sex differences in the perception of
looming motion, which might relevant to your question.

Best regards,


On Mon, May 17, 2010 at 7:40 AM, Joanna Kantor-Martynuska
<joanna.kantor@xxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:
> Dear Auditory List,
> I would very much appreciate your suggestions about the literature regarding
> sex differences in perception of environmental sounds. I�m intrested in
> physiological indices of auditory predispositions for perception of
> different sounds we encounter in our natural environment.
> Looking forward to any interesting suggestions or links.
> Best,
> Joanna Kantor


David C. Mountain, Ph.D.
Professor of Biomedical Engineering

Boston University
44 Cummington St.
Boston, MA 02215

Email:   dcm@xxxxxx
Website: http://www.bu.edu/hrc/research/laboratories/auditory-biophysics/
Phone:   (617) 353-4343
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Office:  ERB 413