Research Articles

Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics

, Volume 71, Issue 3, pp 607-619

First online:

The importance of semantics in auditory representations

  • Melissa K. GreggAffiliated withStony Brook University
  • , Arthur G. SamuelAffiliated withStony Brook University Email author 


The purpose of the present study was to examine the nature of auditory representations by manipulating the semantic and physical relationships between auditory objects. On each trial, listeners heard a group of four simultaneous sounds for 1 sec, followed by 350 msec of noise, and then either the same sounds or three of the same plus a new one. Listeners completed a change-detection task and an object-encoding task. For change detection, listeners made a same-different judgment for the two groups of sounds. Object encoding was measured by presenting probe sounds that either were or were not present in the two groups. In Experiments 1 and 3, changing the target to an object that was acoustically different from but semantically the same as the original target resulted in more errors on both tasks than when the target changed to an acoustically and semantically different object. In Experiment 2, comparison of semantic and acoustic effects demonstrated that acoustics provide a weaker cue than semantics for both change detection and object encoding. The results suggest that listeners rely more on semantic information than on physical detail.)