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Human Auditory Biases Match Natural Regularities Found With Animal Calls

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Human perceptual dimensions of sound are not necessarily simple representations of the actual physical dimensions that make up sensory input. In particular, research on the perception of interactions between acoustic frequency and intensity has shown that people exhibit a bias

Human perceptual dimensions of sound are not necessarily simple representations of the actual physical dimensions that make up sensory input. In particular, research on the perception of interactions between acoustic frequency and intensity has shown that people exhibit a bias to expect the perception of pitch and loudness to change together. Researchers have proposed that this perceptual bias occurs because sound sources tend to follow a natural regularity of a correlation between changes in intensity and frequency of sound. They postulate that the auditory system has adapted to expect this naturally occurring relationship to facilitate auditory scene analysis, the tracking and parsing sources of sound as listeners analyze their auditory environments. However, this correlation has only been tested with human speech and musical sounds. The current study explores if animal sounds also exhibit the same natural correlation between intensity and frequency and tests if people exhibit a perceptual bias to assume this correlation when listening to animal calls. Our principal hypotheses are that animal sounds will tend to exhibit a positive correlation between intensity and frequency and that, when hearing such sounds change in intensity, listeners will perceive them to also change in frequency and vice versa. Our tests with 21 animal calls and 8 control stimuli along with our experiment with participants responding to these stimuli supported these hypotheses. This research provides a further example of coupling of perceptual biases with natural regularities in the auditory domain, and provides a framework for understanding perceptual biases as functional adaptations that help perceivers more accurately anticipate and utilize reliable natural patterns to enhance scene analyses in real world environments.

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2014-05