Sex differences in perceiving auditory 'looming' produced by acoustic intensity change

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Heckel, T.
Neuhoff, J. G.
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Listeners often overestimate the acoustic intensity change of rising compared to equivalent falling intensity tones. The explanation that has been proposed for this effect has centered on the importance of a rising intensity signal in a natural environment. From the perspective of auditory display, this perceptual asymmetry makes acoustic intensity a poor variable choice for the purpose of sonifying dynamic changes in data. However, the salient nature of a rising intensity signal may make it appropriate for marking critical changes in the data. Nonetheless, the origin of this effect is still somewhat in question. Here, we seek to shed some light on the origin by demonstrating sex differences in loudness change that converge with sex-specific theories of spatial ability. We found that males and females both overestimated rising intensity compared to falling intensity, but differed in the magnitude of the perceptual bias. For rising intensity, females perceived more loudness change than males, a finding consistent with a greater sense of warning. For falling intensity, males perceived more loudness change than females. Our data are consistent with the hypothesis that the rising intensity bias is an adaptation to sexspecific evolutionary pressures and that well documented visuospatial sex differences are in fact polymodal phenomena that extend to the auditory system.
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