Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

The Role of a Change Heuristic in Judgments of Sound Duration

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

The Role of a Change Heuristic in Judgments of Sound Duration

Article excerpt

The present study investigated whether the quality of a frequency change within a sound (i.e., smooth vs. abrupt) would influence perception of its duration. In three experiments, participants were presented with two consecutive sounds on each of a series of trials, and their task was to judge whether the second sound was longer or shorter in duration than the first. In Experiment 1, participants were more likely to judge sounds consisting of a smooth and continuous change in frequency as longer in duration than sounds that maintained a constant frequency. In Experiment 2, the same bias was observed for sounds incorporating an abrupt change in frequency, but only when the frequency change was relatively small. The results of Experiment 3 suggested that the application of a change heuristic when generating duration judgments depends on the perception of change as originating from a single, integrated perceptual object.

Previous research has shown that processing fluency may influence duration judgments independently of the objective passage of time (Kleider & Goldinger, 2004; Masson & Caldwell, 1998; Reber, Zimmermann, & Wurtz, 2004; Whittlesea, 1993; Witherspoon & Allan, 1985). Critically, these studies have revealed that exposure to a stimulus during a study phase later causes participants to judge the temporal duration of the same stimulus as longer than that of a novel stimulus. Additional studies have identified other nontemporal event characteristics that may also contribute to the perception of event duration. Notably, Poynter's (1989) change/segmentation model of duration judgments posits that both the number of events within an interval and the degree of change that occurs should lengthen perceived duration. To investigate Poynter's suggestion, Brown (1995) tested whether the distance a stimulus moves might lead to an increase in its perceived duration. Brown observed that participants were biased to perceive displays containing moving stimuli as being presented for a longer duration than were displays containing stationary stimuli. Brown interpreted these results as support for Poynter's change/segmentation model, which emphasizes the contribution of stimulus change to perceived duration. Given that in vision, space is a primary feature, and in audition, frequency is a primary feature (Garner, 1974), we expected that listeners would be biased to perceive a sound with a changing frequency as persisting for a longer duration than that of a sound that maintained a constant frequency, as in the results obtained by Brown.


Brown (1995) demonstrated that stimulus motion could increase the perceived duration of an event. Using an analogous approach with auditory stimuli, in Experiment 1, we investigated whether a continuous, smooth change in frequency within a sound would similarly influence duration judgments. That is, following Poynter's (1989) change/segmentation model, would participants interpret change in the frequency of a sound as evidence that the sound was presented for a longer duration? Put another way, would participants apply a change heuristic when generating duration judgments for auditory stimuli?



Sixty-eight students attending the University of Manitoba participated in Experiments 1A (32 students) and 1B (36 students) in exchange for course credit. All participants in this and all subsequent experiments self-reported normal hearing.


Computer and sound system. The experiment was conducted using a Dell Precision 390, Intel Core 2 Duo computer connected to a 17-in. color monitor. The E-Prime Software System (Psychology Software Tools, 2002) was used to present stimuli and to record responses. The sounds were presented through Dell A225 speakers at approximately 70 dB SPL.

Sounds. Adobe Audition (Adobe Systems, 2004) software was used to synthesize sounds at a sampling rate of 44100 Hz. …

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