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Change detection in complex auditory scenes is predicted by auditory memory, pitch perception, and years of musical training


Our world is a sonically busy place and we use both acoustic information and experience-based knowledge to make sense of the sounds arriving at our ears. The knowledge we gain through experience has the potential to shape what sounds are prioritized in a complex scene. There are many examples of how visual expertise influences how we perceive objects in visual scenes, but few studies examine how auditory expertise is associated with attentional biases toward familiar real-world sounds in complex scenes. In the current study, we investigated whether musical expertise is associated with the ability to detect changes to real-world sounds in complex auditory scenes, and whether any such benefit is specific to musical instrument sounds. We also examined whether change detection is better for human-generated sounds in general or only communicative human sounds. We found that musicians had less change deafness overall. All listeners were better at detecting human communicative sounds compared to human non-communicative sounds, but this benefit was driven by speech sounds and sounds that were vocally generated. Musical listening skill, speech-in-noise, and executive function abilities were used to predict rates of change deafness. Auditory memory, musical training, fine-grained pitch processing, and an interaction between training and pitch processing accounted for 45.8% of the variance in change deafness. To better understand perceptual and cognitive expertise, it may be more important to measure various auditory skills and relate them to each other, as opposed to comparing experts to non-experts.

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  1. It should be noted that because a change during a trial inherently involves two different sounds (i.e., dropping from scene 1 and replacing in scene 2, see Fig. 1), two different superordinate categories are involved in every “different” trial. All analyses were done separately when superordinate categories were grouped by the sound dropping out of scene 1 and when grouped by the sound replacing in scene 2 and results were the same. Given that participants have better memory for the changing sound from scene 2 than scene 1 and that encoding of the changing sound from scene 2 explains more variance in change detection performance than encoding the changing sound from scene 1 (Irsik, Vanden Bosch der Nederlanden, & Snyder, 2016), we decided to report results grouped by the replacing sound from scene 2. The superordinate category effect size for these data was larger for scene 2 (η 2p  = 0.300) than scene 1 (η 2p  = 0.137), consistent with our previous work.


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This research is supported by a grant awarded to J.S.S. from the Army Research Office, award number W911NF-12-1-0256 and the Barrick Graduate Fellowship awarded to C.M.V.B.d.N from the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

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Correspondence to Christina M. Vanden Bosch der Nederlanden.

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All procedures performed in the current study involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional review board (IRB) at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants during the study.

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Vanden Bosch der Nederlanden, C.M., Zaragoza, C., Rubio-Garcia, A. et al. Change detection in complex auditory scenes is predicted by auditory memory, pitch perception, and years of musical training. Psychological Research 84, 585–601 (2020).

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