Sound specificity effects in spoken word recognition: The effect of integrality between words and sounds

Dorina Strori, Johannes Zaar, Martin Cooke, Sven L. Mattys

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Recent evidence has shown that nonlinguistic sounds co-occurring with spoken words may be retained in memory and affect later retrieval of the words. This sound-specificity effect shares many characteristics with the classic voice-specificity effect. In this study, we argue that the sound-specificity effect is conditional upon the context in which the word and sound coexist. Specifically, we argue that, besides co-occurrence, integrality between words and sounds is a crucial factor in the emergence of the effect. In two recognition-memory experiments, we compared the emergence of voice and sound specificity effects. In Experiment 1, we examined two conditions where integrality is high. Namely, the classic voice-specificity effect (Exp. 1a) was compared with a condition in which the intensity envelope of a background sound was modulated along the intensity envelope of the accompanying spoken word (Exp. 1b). Results revealed a robust voice-specificity effect and, critically, a comparable sound-specificity effect: A change in the paired sound from exposure to test led to a decrease in word-recognition performance. In the second experiment, we sought to disentangle the contribution of integrality from a mere co-occurrence context effect by removing the intensity modulation. The absence of integrality led to the disappearance of the sound-specificity effect. Taken together, the results suggest that the assimilation of background sounds into memory cannot be reduced to a simple context effect. Rather, it is conditioned by the extent to which words and sounds are perceived as integral as opposed to distinct auditory objects.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAttention, Perception & Psychophysics
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)222-241
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Sensory Systems
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Long-term memory
  • Speech perception
  • Spoken word recognition

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