Skip to main content

Open Access A Cognitive Approach to Urban Soundscapes: Using Verbal Data to Access Everyday Life Auditory Categories

The present research on cognitive categories mediates between individual experiences of soundscapes and collective representations shared in language and elaborated as knowledge. This approach focuses on meanings attributed to soundscapes in an attempt to bridge the gap between individual perceptual categories and sociological representations. First, results of several free categorisation experiments are presented, namely the categorical structures elicited using soundscape recordings and the underlying principles of organisation derived from the analysis of verbal comments. People categorised sound samples on the basis of semantic features that integrate perceptual ones. Specifically, soundscapes reflecting human activity were perceived as more pleasant than soundscapes where mechanical sounds were predominant. Second, the linguistic exploration of free-format verbal description of soundscapes indicated that the meanings attributed to sounds act as a determinant for sound quality evaluations. Soundscape evaluations are therefore qualitative first as they are semiotic in nature as grounded in cultural values given to different types of activities. Physical descriptions of sound properties have to be reconsidered as cues pointing to diverse cognitive objects to be identified first rather as the only adequate, exhaustive and objective description of the sound itself. Finally, methodological and theoretical consequences of these findings are drawn, highlighting the need to address not only noise annoyance but rather sound quality of urban environments. To do so, cognitive evaluations must be conducted in the first place to identify relevant city users' categories of soundscapes and then to use physical measurement to characterize corresponding acoustic events.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2006

  • Access Key
  • Free content
  • Partial Free content
  • New content
  • Open access content
  • Partial Open access content
  • Subscribed content
  • Partial Subscribed content
  • Free trial content