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Effect of Signal-to-Noise Ratio and Visual Context on Environmental Sound Identification

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The recognition of environmental sounds is of main interest for the perception of our environment. This study investigates whether visual context can counterbalance the impairing effect of signal degradation (signal-to-noise ratio, SNR) on the identification of environmental sounds. SNRs and semantic congruency between sensory modalities, i.e. auditory and visual information, were manipulated. Two categories of sound sources, living and nonliving were used. The participants’ task was to indicate the category of the sound as fast as possible. Increasing SNRs and congruent audiovisual contexts enhanced identification accuracy and shortened reaction times. The results further indicated that living sound sources were recognized more accurately and faster than nonliving sound sources. A preliminary analysis of the acoustical factors mediating participants’ responses revealed that the harmonic-to-noise ratio (HNR) sound signals was significantly associated with the probability of identifying a sound as living. Further, the extent to which participants’ identifications were sensitive to the HNR appeared to be modulated by both SNR and audiovisual congruence.

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