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J Acoust Soc Am. 2005 Oct;118(4):2618-33.

Incidental categorization of spectrally complex non-invariant auditory stimuli in a computer game task.

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Department of Psychology and the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213, USA.


This study examined perceptual learning of spectrally complex nonspeech auditory categories in an interactive multi-modal training paradigm. Participants played a computer game in which they navigated through a three-dimensional space while responding to animated characters encountered along the way. Characters' appearances in the game correlated with distinctive sound category distributions, exemplars of which repeated each time the characters were encountered. As the game progressed, the speed and difficulty of required tasks increased and characters became harder to identify visually, so quick identification of approaching characters by sound patterns was, although never required or encouraged, of gradually increasing benefit. After 30 min of play, participants performed a categorization task, matching sounds to characters. Despite not being informed of audio-visual correlations, participants exhibited reliable learning of these patterns at posttest. Categorization accuracy was related to several measures of game performance and category learning was sensitive to category distribution differences modeling acoustic structures of speech categories. Category knowledge resulting from the game was qualitatively different from that gained from an explicit unsupervised categorization task involving the same stimuli. Results are discussed with respect to information sources and mechanisms involved in acquiring complex, context-dependent auditory categories, including phonetic categories, and to multi-modal statistical learning.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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