Sound specificity effects in spoken word recognition: The effect of integrality between words and sounds

Dorina Strori, Johannes Zaar, Martin Cooke, Sven Mattys

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Recent evidence has shown that non-linguistic sounds co-occurring with spoken words may be retained in memory and affect later retrieval of the words. This "sound-specificity effect" shares many characteristics with the classic voice-specificity effect. In this study, we argue that the sound-specificity effect is conditional upon the context in which the word and sound co-exist. Specifically, we argue that, besides co-occurrence, integrality between words and sounds is a crucial factor in the emergence of the effect. In two recognition-memory experiments, we compared the emergence of voice and sound specificity effects. In Experiment 1, we examined two conditions where integrality is high. Namely, the classic voice-specificity effect (1A) was compared with a condition in which the intensity envelope of a background sound was modulated along the intensity envelope of the accompanying spoken word (1B). Results revealed a robust voice-specificity effect and, critically, a comparable sound-specificity effect: A change in the paired sound from exposure to test led to a decrease in word recognition performance. In the second experiment, we sought to disentangle the contribution of integrality from a mere co-occurrence context effect by removing the intensity modulation. The absence of integrality led to the disappearance of the sound specificity effect. Taken together, the results suggest that the assimilation of background sounds into memory cannot be reduced to a simple context effect. Rather, it is conditioned by the extent to which words and sounds are perceived as integral as opposed to distinct auditory objects.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages20
JournalAttention, Perception & Psychophysics
Early online date3 Oct 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 3 Oct 2017

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