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Re: sex differences in perception of environmental sounds

Dear Milena and all,
The variety of factors at play in environmental sound perception is indeed puzzling and fascinating, and I wish we could investigate more these questions.

Milena Droumeva wrote:

Further - is any difference being made in the definition of environmental sounds between human, mechanical, electronic, electroacoustic and digital sound?
To pursue the discussion, Milena's remark has reminded me of some results we had in a applied study [1]. We were looking at how users emotionally react to the manipulation of sonically interactive interfaces. We wanted to highlight systematic relationships between acoustical features and certain patterns in the users' reported feelings, but it turned out that one of the main factor influencing the valence of the reported feelings (in short, how pleasant they found the sounds) was the "naturalness" of the sounds. This factor was operationally defined as follows: "natural sounds" were recordings of mechanical events consistent with the interface users were manipulating (objects dropped on a surface), and "synthetic" sounds were created by additive/subtractive synthesis with the specific purpose of sounding artificial (I agree that this definition is rather tautological). Both types of sounds shared the same low-level psychoacoustical features (attack-time, sharpness, tonality). In another study, Patrick Susini [2] also found that the "naturalness" (this was defined in a slightly different way) of the sonic feedback of a mATM interface affected how usable users perceived the interface. I have not further dug into this question, but my feeling is that the way listeners process sounds is different when the mechanical cause of a sound is understable (and here I tend to believe that "understable" is strongly related to "how can I physically make that sound"), and when no mechanical cause can be attributed to a sound (as this is the case with certain synthetic sounds). But the question might also not be that simple, because, to me, a recording is like a picture: it is not a the reality, and listeners are not fooled by it. Especially in an experiment with recordings of natural sounds, listeners know that they are listening to recordings, that these recordings are technical representations of something, and "act as if" they were presented with the reality. And in the absence of any other visual or contextual information, some recordings of naturally occurring events can become really puzzling, a fact well known by Foley artists. So the distinction may not be between "natural" and "synthetic" sounds, but related to the fact that certain sounds may activate perceptual-motor representations (say: they activate the motor representations required to make the actions that make the sounds), and certain may not. This might not only be related to the sounds, but also to the listener's experience, and to contextual factors. I wonder is someone has ever studied these questions or could point me toward related studies.


author = {Guillaume Lemaitre and Olivier Houix and Karmen Franinovi\'c and Yon Visell and Patrick Susini }, title = {The {F}lops glass: a device to study emotional reactions arising from sonic interactions}, booktitle = {Proceedings of the Sound and Music Computing (SMC) Conference},
year =      {2009},
address =      {Porto, Portugal},
month =      {}

author = {Patrick Susini and Nicolas Misdariis and Olivier Houix and Guillaume Lemaitre }, title = {Does a ``natural" feedback affect perceived usability and emotion in the context of use of an {ATM}?}, booktitle = {Proceedings of the Sound and Music Computing (SMC) Conference},
year =      {2009},
address =      {Porto, Portugal},
month =      {}

Guillaume Lemaitre
Post-doctoral Research Associate

Carnegie Mellon University
Department of Psychology - Auditory Lab
5000 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA
tel: +1 412-268-4193