Cognitive processes involved in sound evaluations and validation of the “peak-end rule” in the context of everyday soundscape assessments

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Jochen Steffens

At a Glance

  • Location: Montréal, Canada
  • Date: 25.05.2014
  • Institution: McGill-University
    School of Information Studies
  • Web Page:


  • Context: Postdoctoral Research
  • Number of participants: 10
  • Number of days per participants: 7
  • Number of prompst per Day: 9 (10 at the last day)
  • Number of Items: 9/3/5


Environmental noise is ubiquitous and annoyance is one of the most widely studied adverse reactions to noise. Many investigations on the effect of noise uncover significant correlations between noise exposure and health hazards, e.g. in the case of cardiovascular or psychiatric diseases. The subjective assessment of a sound event thereby is of crucial importance since it may lead to perceived annoyance and cause physiological stress reactions. Thus, the aim of the project is to gain a profound understanding of cognitive processes involved in sound evaluations. Human judgment processes are highly complex since they are strongly dependent on mood, memory representations, and attention. Previous research efforts in the field of decision-making and emotion psychology have shown that real-time or momentary experiences are not reflected in a straightforward way when global judgments are requested but strongly depend on moods and memory representations. Studies on noise annoyance and sound evaluations are often retrospective, meaning that people judge sequences they have been previously exposed to. Thereby, the influence of cognitive processes, especially memory representations of a temporal experience, may lead to a weighting of certain episodes in the course of a retrospective overall evaluation. The “peak-end rule”, for example, describes the effect that retrospective evaluations of temporal events significantly depend on the most extreme affect (peak) experienced during an episode and on the affect at the ending.

Our previous research in a laboratory context could show that the linear trend of an experience highly influences retrospective judgments. Thus, aim of the project is to extend the findings to a broader context with regard to sound durations and everyday life conditions. Furthermore we want to test the “peak-end rule” in the context of everyday soundscape assessments. Therefore, we want to use Movisens XS.

Within our 7-day-study, the relationship between momentary and retrospective judgments will be investigated. Thereby, participants will be requested to momentarily judge their sonic environment (soundscape) and report their current activity and mood state at 8 times a day prompted by a randomly-timed signal. Additionally, they are asked to report “peak moments” by starting the application themselves (event-contingent sampling). These peak moments will be described to the participants as highly pleasant or unpleasant sound events occurring in the current soundscape. At a fixed time at the end of the each day (10pm); retrospective judgments will be requested from the participants. These include the overall judgment of the Soundscape over the day as well as the current mood at the time of the retrospective judgment. By comparing the retrospective judgments with the single momentary judgments the hypothesized “peak-end rule” and the influence of the linear trend can be proven. At the end of the week participants will also be requested to perform an overall judgment of the Soundscapes they experienced during the week. This overall judgment again will be compared with the daily retrospective judgments as well as with the momentary judgments.

In order to explore pleasant and unpleasant locations in Montreal, participants will be asked to report their GPS location if applicable. Furthermore, to investigate the relationship between pleasantness and eventfulness of a soundscape, they will be requested to report what they are doing at the moment and if they paid attention to the soundscape shortly before the prompt.

Since it is also hypothesized that certain personality traits trigger heuristic or analytic judgments we also want to collect data on the noise sensitivity (Weinstein); the impulsiveness (Barratt scale); the Big Five (BFI-S); and thinking-style (Rational-Experiential Inventory) of the participants (not via ESM). Furthermore, basic socio-demographic information will be requested, to acknowledge the type of participants from which the study results are derived.
This project is considered a pilot study to evaluate the validity of ESM in the context of soundscape assessment. In the expected case of a high power of the method for our purposes we are planning to extend the study to another 10-20 participants and longer measuring durations.

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