The use of sonification as an aid to listening task performance.

Isaacson, Robert E., Ph.D., The University of Kansas, 2004.


This study examined the use of sonification in synthetic voice audio messages as an aid to listening task performance. Sonification is the use of non-speech audio cues and signal processing techniques to communicate information. Prior studies in communications theory, cognitive science, auditory display techniques, and instructional message design have indicated that sonification can recruit attention and convey meaning.

In part one of the study, seventy-six participants responded to a user satisfaction comparison rating scale questionnaire survey. The independent variable was sonification and the dependent variable was user satisfaction measured by a seven point bi-polar semantic differential comparison rating scale survey questionnaire across five dimensions: gaining attention, aiding listening, remembering details, aesthetic appeal, and overall valuation. Overall mean response ratings for messages with sonification were all higher than messages without sonification.

In part two of the study, eighty-six participants took part in a listening test experiment. Participants were asked to listen to a stimulus recording of a series of letter/number strings and respond to a series of questions related to the strings. The independent variable was sonification and the dependent variable was listening task performance. A series of independent-samples t tests were conducted across four subcomponent measures of listening task performance including: short-term memory recall, term memory recall with distraction, short-term memory recall with rehearsal, and short-term memory recall with rehearsal and distraction. No difference was found in three of the listening task performance subcomponent measures. However, a difference was found between the sonification group ( M = 4.41, SD = 1.11) and the non-sonification group ( M = 3.83, SD = 1.25) on the short term memory with recall and distraction t test, t (84) = 2.28, p = .026).

The results of this study indicates that listeners assign higher valuation to audio messages which use sonification and that the presence of sonification in audio messages can aid listening task performance in competitive acoustic environments. Future applications of sonification include using sound cues as a means to improve synthetic natural-language speech intelligibility and augment other sensory modalities for human-machine interface, data processing, instructional media, and to assist user populations with special needs.