Abstract: Headphone screening to facilitate web-based auditory experiments

Headphone screening to facilitate web-based auditory experiments

K J P Woods, M Siegel, J Traer and J H McDermott

Published in Attention Perception and Psychophysics, vol.79 pp. 2064-2072, Jul 2017.

DOI: 10.3758/s13414-017-1361-2


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  • Psychophysical experiments conducted remotely over the internet permit data collection from large numbers of participants but sacrifice control over sound presentation and therefore are not widely employed in hearing research. To help standardize online sound presentation, we introduce a brief psychophysical test for determining whether online experiment participants are wearing headphones. Listeners judge which of three pure tones is quietest, with one of the tones presented 180° out of phase across the stereo channels. This task is intended to be easy over headphones but difficult over loudspeakers due to phase-cancellation. We validated the test in the lab by testing listeners known to be wearing headphones or listening over loudspeakers. The screening test was effective and efficient, discriminating between the two modes of listening with a small number of trials. When run online, a bimodal distribution of scores was obtained, suggesting that some participants performed the task over loudspeakers despite instructions to use headphones. The ability to detect and screen out these participants mitigates concerns over sound quality for online experiments, a first step toward opening auditory perceptual research to the possibilities afforded by crowdsourcing.
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