Indexed on: 01 Nov '11Published on: 01 Nov '11Published in: Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics
Background sounds, such as narration, music with prominent staccato passages, and office noise impair verbal short-term memory even when these sounds are irrelevant. This irrelevant sound effect (ISE) is evoked by so-called changing-state sounds that are characterized by a distinct temporal structure with varying successive auditory-perceptive tokens. However, because of the absence of an appropriate psychoacoustically based instrumental measure, the disturbing impact of a given speech or nonspeech sound could not be predicted until now, but necessitated behavioral testing. Our database for parametric modeling of the ISE included approximately 40 background sounds (e.g., speech, music, tone sequences, office noise, traffic noise) and corresponding performance data that was collected from 70 behavioral measurements of verbal short-term memory. The hearing sensation fluctuation strength was chosen to model the ISE and describes the percept of fluctuations when listening to slowly modulated sounds (f(mod) < 20 Hz). On the basis of the fluctuation strength of background sounds, the algorithm estimated behavioral performance data in 63 of 70 cases within the interquartile ranges. In particular, all real-world sounds were modeled adequately, whereas the algorithm overestimated the (non-)disturbance impact of synthetic steady-state sounds that were constituted by a repeated vowel or tone. Implications of the algorithm's strengths and prediction errors are discussed.