2013. Vol.4, No.12, 1051-1058
Published Online December 2013 in SciRes (
Open Access 1051
Emotional Reactions to Tonal and Noise Components of
Environmental Sounds*
Daniel Västfjäll1,2,3#
1Department of Applied Acoustics, Chalmers University of Technology, Göteborg, Sweden
2Department of Behavioral Sciences and Learning, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden
3Decision Research, Eugene, USA
Received January 21st, 2013; revised February 25th, 2013; accepted March 22nd, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Daniel Västfjäll. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons At-
tribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited. In accordance of the Creative Commons Attribution License all Copyrights ©
2013 are reserved for SCIRP and the owner of the intellectual property Daniel Västfjäll. All Copyright © 2013
are guarded by law and by SCIRP as a guardian.
In the present study, a two-dimensional model of human emotional reactions is used to predict auditory
perception. The models’ discriminant validity is tested in an experiment where one group of participants
use a two-dimensional emotion measure to rate their reactions to sounds systematically varied in tone and
noise spectral level content. Another group of participants rated the same sounds using a standard one-
dimensional annoyance measure. The results showed that both the one- and two-dimensional measures
discriminated between reactions to different sounds. Regression analyses showed that the two-dimen-
sional measure tapped aspects of human experience not covered by the annoyance measure. In addition, it
was shown that only modifications of the fundamental frequency and the overall noise spectral level, but
not modifications of harmonics, had a marked effect on emotional reactions. The implications of these
findings for both auditory emotion research and noise control engineering are discussed.
Keywords: Academic Procrastination; Self-Regulation; Active Procrastination; Self-Handicapping
For a long time researchers have studied human responses to
exterior aircraft community noise (e.g. Berglund, Berglund, &
Lindvall; see Job 1988 for an overview). Some main findings
from this research are that level and spectral characteristics
such as presence of tonal components and tone-to-noise ratio
are important determinants of subjective annoyance (Berglund
& Lindvall, 1995). Considerably fewer researches have re-
ported on human responses to interior sounds (Powell & Fields,
1995). The research reported on interior noise has mainly fo-
cused on the relation between overall dBA level and annoyance
(Fastl & Widman, 1990; Holmgren, 1999). Today, however, the
loudness of the interior of an aircraft is often at acceptable lev-
els. Therefore, other psychoacoustic attributes such as rough-
ness, tone-to-noise ratio, and sharpness may contribute to the
overall experienced sound quality (Zwicker & Fastl, 1999).
Sound quality optimization may therefore be an important tool
to further improve passenger satisfaction.
In order to improve the interior sound environment various
technical implementations can be made by the use of, for in-
stance, active noise control (Emborg, Holmgren, Samuelsson, &
Leth, 1998) or structural improvements (Mixon & Wilby, 1995).
The modifications will mainly affect the presence of tonal
components, spectral balance and consequently the overall
sound level. Following this, it is important to study how modi-
fications of, for example, the fundamental frequency, influence
subjective reactions. It may well be that even though improve-
ments can be made they may have little effect on subjective
reactions such as annoyance. The present research therefore
focused on effects on influencing passenger reactions of modi-
fications of 1) the tones (fundamental frequency, harmonics) 2)
the noise spectra and 3) the tone and noise balance.
Apart from the overall finding that unpleasantness increases
with increasing level (Todd, 2000; Vitz, 1973), previous re-
searches have shown that the presence of a single tone in the
noise spectra significantly increases annoyance ratings (Hellman,
1982; Holmberg, Landström, & Kjellberg 1993; Landström,
Kjellberg, Tearz, & Åkerlund, 1995) and decreases human per-
formance (Landström, Kjellberg, & Söderberg, 1993). Further,
annoyance is dependent on the relationship between the fre-
quency of the tone and the spectral shape of the noise. For in-
stance, a single tone added to a low-pass noise contributes more
to overall annoyance (and loudness) than if the tone is added to
a flat broadband or high-pass noise (Hellman, 1984; Kryter &
Pearsons, 1965). In addition, multiple tones further deteriorate
comfort and increase annoyance (Hellman, 1985). Similar to
these findings, research has shown that the more prominent a
tone is the more annoying is the sound (Terhardt, 1982). In
turboprop aircraft strong tonal components exist, due to the
blade pass frequency (Kleiner, 1993; Mixon & Wilby, 1995).
Various measures can be taken to reduce the audibility of the
*Author note: This research was financially supported by a grant from the
Swedish National Aviation Research Program NFFP and from the Swedish
Research Council (VR).
#Corresponding author.
fundamental frequency (corresponding to the blade pass fre-
quency) and harmonics such as cabin sound insulation and
active noise control (Emborg et al., 1998).
However, also the shape of the noise spectra influences an-
noyance ratings. Increasing level of broadband noise often re-
sults in increased annoyance (Berglund & Lindvall, 1995; Ber-
glund, Hassmén, & Preis, 2002). Random or stochastic broad-
band excitation may be a result of airframe noise coming from
the airflow around the fuselage, or may be caused by various
air-intake systems and air conditioners. Noise spectral compo-
nents in the high frequency area are also often subjectively
perceived as sharp (Aures, 1985; Zwicker & Fastl, 1999).
Tones and noise spectra are thus expected to influence an-
noyance reactions in similar ways. Reducing prominent tones
should lead to decreased annoyance as should decreased overall
noise spectra level. However, if one reduces the tone content of
the spectrum, the noise component will be more salient. It may
be asked how subjective ratings will be affected by such modi-
Considering subjective reactions to sound as a multidimen-
sional construct, as compared to a uni-dimensional pleasantness-
unpleasantness or discrete annoyance view, might help resolve
this apparent conflict. Traditionally, subjective affective or
emotional reactions such as annoyance, disturbance, and irrita-
tion have been equated with a uni-dimensional positive-nega-
tive view (Maffiolo, Castellengo, & Dubois, 1999; Vitz, 1973).
However, a number of independent researchers have shown that
at least two underlying dimensions may describe affective reac-
tions to auditory stimuli. Bisping (1995, 1997), Bradley and
Lang (2000) and Västfjäll, Kleiner and Gärling (2002; Västfjäll,
Gulbol, Kleiner, & Gärling, 2002; Västfjäll, 2012) found that
two bipolar dimensions, activation-deactivation and pleasant-
ness-unpleasantness, describe the affective reactions to the
quality of natural and product sounds. The underlying idea is
that affective reactions induced by auditory stimuli can be de-
scribed by the combination of the two orthogonal dimensions
valence and activation (Russell, 1980; Russell & Barrett, 1999).
Figure 1 displays the affective circumplex with the primary di-
mensions of activation and valence (Russell, 1980). According
to this model, an affective reaction such as elation is the com-
bination of pleasantness and high activation (upper right quad-
rant in Figure 1). An affective reaction such as calmness is
similar in pleasantness, but low in activation (lower right quad-
rant). Boredom is the combination of unpleasantness and low
activation (lower left quadrant) and distress is the combination
of unpleasantness and high activation (upper left quadrant). The
affective reaction annoyance would be positioned in the upper
left quadrant of Figure 1. Note that annoyance, as it has been
studied in most acoustic researches, stretches from not at all an-
noyed/neutral (the crossing point of the valence and activation
axes) to very annoyed (along the circle of Figure 1).
In the domain of aircraft sound quality, we (Västfjäll, Kleiner,
& Gärling 2002; Väatfjäll et al., 2003) found that the dimen-
sions of valence and activation discriminated between affective
reactions to 20 aircraft sounds. In addition, the affective reac-
tions were only weakly related to conventional sound quality
metrics with the exception that valence reactions (positive/
negative reactions) were related to loudness. Psychoacoustical
correlates to the affect dimensions were obtained in an experi-
ment where participants rated perceptual properties of the
sounds. Valence was highly correlated with perceived loudness
Figure 1.
The affect circumplex with the two main dimensions valence and acti-
(–0.81), and the activation dimension was related to perceived
sharpness (0.58) and tonality (–0.64). Thus, valence may be
expected to primarily be related to loudness and tonality
changes with more negative reactions with increasing sound
level/tone. Activation ratings are expected to primarily be re-
lated to decreasing tone/increasing noise spectra. Taken to-
gether, a two-dimensional view of affective reactions to sound
is expected to yield more information than merely asking par-
ticipants about their annoyance reactions (Berglund & Lindvall,
1995; Västfjäll et al., 2003).
Previous studies using the two-dimensional theory of affect
have also found it useful to model how attractive participants
think it is to feel in a certain way. Participants’ preference or
attractiveness ratings may provide further information on how
the sound environment may be optimized. A sound environ-
ment that results in preferred reactions should also be optimal
from a sound quality point of view.
The notion that people dislike certain affective states (un-
pleasant and low/high activation/powerfulness) and like others
(pleasant and low/high activation/powerfulness) is implicit in
the view that certain sounds produces more negative (annoy-
ance) reactions than others. In the present research where sub-
jective reactions are conceptualized in terms of two dimensions
(valence and activation) rather than one (annoyance), it may be
asked how preference is related to these dimensions? In studies
of affect-eliciting qualities of visual environments, Russell and
Mehrabian (1978) proposed that an approach tendency or pref-
erence is directly related to valence (their “pleasure-arousal
hypothesis”). The relationship to activation was hypothesized to
be inverted U-shaped for a preference maximum that increases
with valence.
As may be seen in Figure 2, the pleasure-arousal hypothesis
predicts that for affective states similar in unpleasantness, low
and moderate activation, unpleasant states will be preferred, for
valence-neutral affective states, medium activation will be pre-
ferred, and for high valence states, high activation will be pre-
ferred over medium and low activation. In short, for unpleasant
states, people prefer to feel bored (low activation state) over
distressed (high activation state). For pleasant states, people
prefer to feel elated (high activation state) over calm (low acti-
vation state).
Open Access
Figure 2.
The pleasure-arousal hypothesis.
Västjäll, Gulbol, Kleiner, and Gärling (2002) found in ac-
cordance with Figure 2, that preference ratings were related to
both valence and activation of the affective reaction to the
sound. Again, a two-dimensional view is expected to provide
information about the users’ subjective reactions and how to
improve the interior acoustical quality. If sound modifications
for instance will result changes in reactions in terms of lowered
activation, but not valence, still a significant improvement
(more attractive reaction) may have been achieved. A unidi-
mensional valence view may not easily capture this.
The Present Study
The present study aimed at:
1) Examining how modifications of a tone or combination of
tones (fundamental and/or harmonics) and level of noise spectra
(noise-tone balance) influenced subjective reactions. It was
hypothesized that tone manipulations mainly would affect va-
lence and annoyance reactions. For noise spectra level, it was
hypothesized that valence/annoyance would become more posi-
tive with decreasing level, whereas activation was expected to
decrease with decreasing level (have its maximum at high noise
spectra level) (hypothesis 1). These hypotheses were investi-
gated by having participants rating modifications or synthesized
versions of a binaural reference aircraft sound. These results are
expected to give valuable information as to what and how large
modifications to the sound environment that is needed to have a
marked effect on subjective reactions.
2) The second aim was to pit a one-dimensional view on
emotional reactions to sound (annoyance) against a two-di-
mensional view (valence and activation). This was done by
having to separate samples of participants rating the same
sounds either using valence and activation measures, or an an-
noyance measure. It was expected that annoyance ratings
should be related to both the activation and valence dimensions
(hypothesis 2).
3) A final aim was to validate the finding that preference rat-
ings are related to both the valence and activation qualities of
the reaction (Västfjäll et al., 2012) (hypothesis 3). This was
enabled by having participants rating their preference for the
sound concurrent with valence and activation ratings.
Thirty-two undergraduates, 12 female and 20 males, volun-
tarily participated in the experiment. Their mean age was 22.3
years (SD 2.12 range 19 - 30). All reported having normal
Measures and Material
Ratings scales. Valence and activation measures: The affect
measures consisted of two bipolar scales each defined by three
adjective pairs found in previous research to tap valence and
activation, respectively (Västfjäll, Friman, Gärling, & Kleiner,
2002). Sleepy-awake, dull-peppy, and passive-active were used
to define the activation scale, displeased-pleased, sad-glad, and
depressed-happy were used to define the valence scale. An
additional scale was included to measure preference. This scale
was defined by the adjectives attractive, likeable, and preferred
over a neutral state. Beneath all three sets of adjective pairs
appearing on a single page, numbers ranging from –4 over 0 to
4 were typed. Participants were requested to circle the number
that corresponded to their feeling or preference.
Annoyance measure: The annoyance measure was a 9-point
unipolar scale with verbal endpoints not at all (1) to very much
Sound stimuli. A binaurally recorded sound from the interior
of a SAAB 2000 Test Aircraft 003 was used a the base stimulus
(plotted in Figure 3). From this sound a number of modified
versions were created where the fundamental frequency and/or
harmonics or the noise spectrum were changed. Figure 4
outlines a schematic representation of the modifications. The
upper panel shows the original sound with fundamental, har-
monics and noise spectrum. The middle panel illustrates modi-
fications made to the fundamental frequency. From the original
sound (reference sound 0), the fundamental frequency was
increased or decreased in steps of 3dB. Together, four new
sounds were created by changing the fundamental frequency in
this way (see Table 1). Using the same methodology F1 was
modified in the same way (keeping F0 unmodified), resulting in
four additional sounds (see Table 1). It was decided that mainly
the fundamental and first harmonic should be modified since
additional harmonics contributes little to the aural impression
for this specific type of sound (Kleiner, 1993). Finally, the
lower panel of Figure 4 illustrates how the noise spectra was
increased or decreased (relative to the original sound) in steps
of 3dB.
As may be seen in Table 1, various factorial combinations of
F0 and F1 changes were also created. Including the original
sound, the test battery contained 35 test sounds, divided into
block of five sounds.
Apparatus. The stimuli were generated using digital signal
processing software and were digitally stored on a computer.
Stimulus presentation was made on computers using an ex-
periment program. The sounds were delivered via Stax electro-
static headphones.
Procedure. Participants served individually or in groups of a
maximum of three persons at a time. Upon arrival to the labo-
ratory, they were first instructed how to use the scales and
equipment. They were instructed that they would perform rat-
ings of their reactions to various aircraft sounds. All partici-
pants listened to and rated each of the five sounds in each of the
seven blocks. Presentation order of block and sounds within the
blocks were counterbalanced over individuals. Participants
were randomly assigned to annoyance ratings (n = 16, 10 males)
or affect ratings (n = 16, 10 males).
Open Access 1053
Figure 3.
FFT of the original base sound stimuli.
Figure 4.
A schematic overview of the modification scheme
used to create the sound stimuli.
Participants first listened and rated five trial sounds (other
than the test stimuli). After that they rated the five sounds in the
first block, participants continued with remaining sound blocks.
When participants had rated all the sounds, they were debriefed,
compensated, and thanked for their participation.
Overview of analysis strategies. Participants listened to blo-
Table 1.
Overview of test stimuli based on modification of the original sound.
Change in dB relative to reference sound
Stimuli block number and main
component(s) F0 F1 Noise spectra
1) Fundamental frequency Original
+3 dB
+ 6 dB
3 dB
6 dB
2) Harmonic Original
+3 dB
+ 6 dB
3 dB
6 dB
3) Noise spectra Original
+3 dB
+ 6 dB
3 dB
6 dB
4) Fundamental and Harmonic 1+6 db
+6 db +6 dB
+6 db +3 dB
+6 db Original
+6 db 3 dB
+6 db 6 dB
5) Fundamental and Harmonic 2+3 db +6 dB
+3 db +3 dB
+3 db Original
+3 db 3 dB
+3 db 6 dB
6) Fundamental and Harmonic 33 db +6 dB
3 db +3 dB
3 db Original
3 db 3 dB
3 db 6 dB
7) Fundamental and Harmonic 46 db +6 dB
6 db +3 dB
6 db Original
6 db 3 dB
6 db 6 dB
cks of five sounds (for each modification) and within-group
analysis of variance (ANOVA) were used to evaluate differ-
ences within each block. To correct for possible violations of
sphericity, Grenhousse-Geisser correction of the degrees of
freedom was used. To evaluate the relationship between an-
noyance and affect ratings, Pearson correlation coefficients and
regression analyses were applied. The annoyance ratings were
converted from a 1 to 9 point scale to a –4 to 4 scale to facili-
tate comparisons with the affect scales.
Emotional Reactions to Sound Modifications
Fundamental Frequency: The within-subjects ANOVAs for
the modifications of the fundamental frequency (modification
Open Access
block 1) was significant for the valence, F(2.48, 37.61) = 9.01,
p < 0.001, activation, F(3.24, 48.70) = 3.05, p < 0.02, and pref-
erence scales, F(2.65, 39.83) = 10.68, p < 0.001. Figure 5 dis-
plays the mean ratings for the valence, activation, and prefer-
ence scales. Bonferroni-corrected contrast tests at p = 0.05
showed that for the valence and preference scales all mean
comparisons, with the exceptions of –3 and – 6 db and the 0
and –3 comparisons, were significant. For the activation scale
only the comparison between the original and –6 dB was sig-
The ANOVA for the annoyance ratings was significant,
F(2.99, 44.94) =11.79. p < 0.001. Bonferroni-corrected con-
trasts showed that all comparisons were significant except that
of –3 and –6 dB.
Harmonic: The analysis for harmonic modifications (modifi-
cation block 2) showed that there were no significant overall
effects on either the valence, F(1.94, 29.12) = 0.11, ns., activa-
tion, F(1.96, 29.47) = 0.19, ns., preference, F(1.98, 29.81) =
0.55, ns., or annoyance F(2.12, 42.15) = 1.09, ns.
Noise spectra: The within-subjects ANOVAs for the modifi-
cations of the harmonic (modification block 3) was significant
for the valence, F(2.86, 42.96) = 12.51, p < 0.001. Bonferroni-
corrected contrast tests showed that only the differences be-
tween +6 dB and all other levels were significant (Figure 6).
The ANOVA for activation was also significant, F(2.99, 44.97)
= 23.89, p < 0.001, and the contrast showed that +6 dB modifi-
cation resulted in significant higher levels of activation than all
other sounds. Also the +3 dB modification induced signifi-
cantly higher levels of activation than did the –3, and –6 dB
excerpts. The ANOVA for preference scale was significant,
F(2.50, 37.58) = 23.37, p < 0.001. Again, the contrasts showed
that +6 dB modification was significantly less preferred com-
pared to the other sounds. Also the +3 dB modification was
rated as less liked than the –3 and –6 dB excerpts.
The ANOVA for the group performing annoyance ratings
also yielded a significant main effect, F(2.87, 43.07) = 22.22, p
< 0.001. The contrasts showed that +6 dB modification was
significantly more annoying compared to the other sounds.
Also the +3 dB modification was more annoying than the –3,
and –6 dB excerpts.
Combined noise and harmonic modifications. Separate
Figure 5.
Mean ratings of valence, activation, preference, and annoyance for fun-
damental frequency modifications (block 1).
Figure 6.
Mean ratings of valence, activation, preference, and annoyance for
noise spectral modifications (block 3).
ANOVAs were performed for and of the fundamental and har-
monic blocks (modifications block 4, 5, 6, and 7 in Table 1).
No significant effects were obtained on valence, activation, pre-
ference, or annoyance scales.
Preference, Valence, and Activation
To test the hypothesis that preference ratings are related to
both valence and activation qualities of the sound, separate
regression analyses was performed for the conditions where
significant variation was observed: fundamental frequency and
noise spectra. The dependent variable was participants’ prefer-
ence ratings, and independent variables were the valence and
activation ratings. The pleasure-arousal hypothesis also suggest
that a quadratic component of activation (A2) and a valence by
activation interaction (V × A) should be related to preference.
Therefore, two additional variables corresponding to these
components were tested in the regression analyses (substituting
linear activation). Observations were pooled over individuals
and sounds thus resulting in 80 observations (16 participants ×
five sounds). Over all observations valence and activation cor-
related 0.26 (ns) for the fundamental frequency ratings, and
–0.31 (ns) for the noise spectra ratings. Table 2 reports the
regression analyses. As may be seen, for both analyses the in-
dependent variables were significantly related to preference.
For the fundamental frequency ratings, the model with linear
valence and activation showed that activation was not signifi-
cantly related to preference ratings. However, for the second
model the quadratic activation and the valence by activation
interaction were significant. In addition, the explained variance
increased from 0.58 to 0.64. Similar results were obtained for
the noise spectra ratings. However, in this analysis also the
linear activation was significant. This difference is most proba-
bly due to the increased variation in activation ratings for the
noise spectra modifications as compared to the fundamental
frequency modifications (see Figures 5 and 6).
Annoyance versus Affect Ratings
To test the hypothesis that annoyance ratings are related to
activation, valence, and preference ratings, all observations
Open Access 1055
Table 2.
Regression analyses of the relationship between participants’ prefer-
ence and valence/activation ratings.
Modela F df R2adj
Fundamental frequency modification ratings
P = Valence0.79** Activation0.11 55.49** 2, 77 0.58**
P = Valence0.77** A20.15* + V × A0.13* 43.45 3, 76 0.63**
Noise spectra modification ratings
P = Valence0.67** Activation0.19* 57.96** 2, 77 0.54**
P = Valence0.66** A20.18* + V × A0.19* 28.33** 3, 76 0.62**
aP = preference, A2 = quadratic activation, V × A = valence by activation interac-
tion. *p < 0.05; **p < 0.01.
were pooled over individuals and sounds yielding 80 observa-
tions for fundamental frequency and noise spectra modifica-
tions, respectively. Following this regression analyses were
performed with the annoyance ratings as dependent variable,
and the valence, activation, and preference ratings as inde-
pendent variables. For ratings of fundamental frequency it was
found that annoyance ratings correlated 0.13 (ns) with valence,
–0.19 (ns) with activation, and 0.27 (p < 0.01) with preference.
The regression analysis was significant, F(3, 76) = 3.57, p <
0.01, R2adj = 0.10. The beta weights for preference (0.36) and
activation (–0.21) were significant at p = 0.05, whereas the beta
weight for valence was non-significant (–0.09).
The analysis of noise spectra modifications showed than an-
noyance ratings correlated 0.41 (p < 0.001) with valence, –0.62
(p < 0.001) with activation, and 0.49 (p < 0.001) with prefer-
ence. Consequently, the regression analysis was significant, F
(3, 76) = 21.85, p < 0.001, R2adj = 0.44 with significant stan-
dardized beta weights for activation (–0.51) and preference
(0.22), but not valence (0.10).
The present research set out to study how different tonal and
noise modifications influence emotional reactions. In line with
previous findings (Västfjäll et al., 2002), support was found for
the idea that valence/annoyance reactions should mainly be
affected by tonal components and the activation dimension by
noise spectra modifications (hypothesis 1). Significant varia-
tions in valence, activation and annoyance ratings were found
for the fundamental frequency modifications (block 1) and
noise spectral modifications (block 2). However, modifications
of the first harmonic (holding fundamental and noise spectra
constant) did not significantly affect subjective reactions.
Clearly, the modifications made in the present study not only
affected the perceived tonal or noise balance, but also resulted
in loudness variations. However, loudness alone cannot explain
why different modifications have different effects on subjective
reactions. To recapitulate, it was found that participants ex-
perienced an increased state of activation and increasingly
negative feelings as the noise component (and loudness) in-
creased (noise modifications block 2). However, in another
condition where the tone components (and loudness) were var-
ied, participants experienced an increased negative, unpleasant
feeling, but the effect on activation was minor (fundamental
modifications block 1). Both types of modifications resulted in
loudness increases or decreases, but they had different effects
on experience measured by the two dimensions valence and
activation. Thus, it appears that modifications affecting the
noise spectra or noise spectral balance is related to the activa-
tion dimension of experience, whereas tonal modifications are
related to pleasantness-unpleasantness component of subjective
These findings suggest that even though improvements can
be made by canceling out the fundamental frequency or lower
the overall noise level, other modifications of for instance the
balance between fundamental and harmonic may have little
effect on subjective reactions. The finding that valence and
activation were differently affected by the same modification
also has effects on decisions of how to optimize the sound en-
vironment. If one desires to minimize the activation component
of the experience, modifications of overall noise spectra level
may be sought. If the goal instead is to minimize unpleasant
reactions, tone modifications may be the primary aim. In order
to understand the relevance of this difference it is important to
review some recent research suggesting that valence and acti-
vation have different effects on behavior, performance, and
physiology (Russell & Barrett, 1999). It is well known that a
noisy environment may induce stress (a combination of high
activation and unpleasantness) or that listening to music may
result in a feeling of euphoria with accompanying psycho-
physiological responses and impact on cognitive functions
(Evans, Hygge, & Bullinger, 1995). More specifically, valence
is associated with changes in heart rate and facial micro-
movements, whereas activation is related to electrodermal re-
sponses (Lang, 1995). For cognitive abilities, performance,
information processing, and problem solving, valence is associ-
ated with mood-congruent judgments, whereas activation is
related to constraints on information processing capabilities and
arousal-congruent judgments (Clark, Millberg, & Erber, 1984).
According to the affective circumplex, any affective reaction
should be possible to characterize in terms of its position along
the valence and activation axes (Russell & Barrett, 1999). Hy-
pothesis 2 explored the possibility that annoyance reactions are
combinations of valence and activation. In two separate regres-
sion analyses it was shown that annoyance ratings were sys-
tematically related to preference and activation ratings, but not
to valence. Moreover, these two variables could only account
for modest percentage of the variance in annoyance ratings
(10% and 44%). The relatively low overlap can in part be due
to the fact that a between-subjects design was used; participants
either rated the sounds using an annoyance scale or valence/
activation/preference scales. The fact that preference, rather
than valence was related may be due to the high intercorrelation
between them, resulting in that only one of the two variables
was retained in the regression analyses. However, it was still
expected that a larger percentage of the variance in annoyance
should have been accounted for by the independent variables.
Thus, only partial support for hypothesis 2 was obtained in that
both preference/valence and activation were systematically
related to activation. However, counter to hypothesis 2, the
annoyance scale measures aspects not fully covered by the
valence and activation dimensions. An aspect differentiating
annoyance from valence-activation is that annoyance concerns
a feeling state caused by a sound and effects on behavior or
performance (annoyed/disturbed when doing x), whereas va-
lence and activation are pure “core” feelings (Berglund &
Lindvall, 1995; Russell & Barrett, 1999; Västfjäll et al., 2002).
Another way to understand the difference between core affects
and annoyance is the notion that annoyance is a discrete affec-
tive state with associated appraisal patterns (Russell & Barett,
Open Access
1999). Appraisals refer to a cognitive assessment of antecedent
conditions (this sound is loud and it is disturbing me when I
need to concentrate). Core affects on the other hand are unap-
praised (with no object) feelings. Consequently, a component of
annoyance may be core affects (valence and activation) but the
full-blown experience of annoyance/disturbance is likely to
involve cognitive appraisal components. Thus, valence and
activation may only in part capture annoying experiences.
Given that measuring core affects and discrete reactions (such
as annoyance) have different advantages where valence-activation
are related to information processing and physiology, and an-
noyance to activity disturbance and performance, it may be
concluded that both measures should be used to fully under-
stand emotional reactions to sound. However, the present re-
search goes beyond most research on sound quality optimiza-
tion by showing that reactions should be measured by, at least
two dimensions, and that these dimensions taps into aspects of
noise perception not covered by annoyance measures. Most
importantly, the two-dimensional valence/activation model of-
fered here also allows for positive hedonic experience (it is a
pleasant sound), an important aspect of sound quality.
In addition, the present research suggests that a measure of
emotional reactions to sounds should also include a measure of
liking for the sound (see also Berglund et al., 2002, for the dis-
cussion of affective processes and preferences). In contrast to
many studies of human response to sound, we argue that liking
for a sound cannot be equated with pleasantness. Instead, both
valence and activation of the reaction should be related to
sound preference. In support of this hypothesis, regression ana-
lyses showed that preference was related to valence and activa-
tion as predicted by the pleasure-arousal hypothesis (Russell &
Mehrabian, 1978). A similar conclusion was previously reached
by Västfäll et al. (2012) for recordings or real interior environ-
mental sounds.
To summarize, at a theoretical level, the present research has
gone beyond exiting research in showing that a well established
model for emotional reactions based on the two dimensions of
valence and activation describe emotional reactions to various
sounds (see also Bergman et al., 2009; Tajadura et al., 2010a;
2010b for similar results). Together with the findings suggest-
ing that this model can account for and discriminate between
subjective reactions to a number of different sound sources
such as product sounds (Bisping, 1997; Västfjäll et al., 2012),
tones (Asutay & Västfjäll, 2012), various environmental sounds
(Björk, 1985), everyday sounds and human voices (Bradley &
Lang, 2000) and music (Juslin & Västfjäll, 2008), it should now
be considered as a alternative or complementary measure to
standard noise annoyance measures. In addition, a valence/
activation measure may provide insights into aspects of percep-
tion and physiology not easily covered by one-dimensional
measures. A measure combining standard verbal report meas-
ures of subjective noise reactions with the valence/activation
measure will most likely have a higher explanatory power than
either alone (västfjäll & Gärling, 2007). The valence/activation
measure is to date available in many different languages (Rus-
sell, 1980; see Västfjäll et al., 2002 for an overview) and vari-
ous non-verbal graphical scales for use in different populations
have been developed (Lang, 1995; Russell, Weiss, & Mendel-
sohn, 1989). From a sound quality optimization viewpoint, the
valence and activation measure may be combined with the
preference measure to predict user responses to various sound
At a practical level, the present results showed that not all
possible modifications have a marked effect on human reac-
tions, even though such modification may be measurable, visi-
ble in graphical depictions of the sound, or even audible (Quehl
et al., 2000). The present study demonstrated that mainly over-
all noise level, the fundamental frequency, and the balance
between the two, had a significant effect on self-reported reac-
tions. Modification of the first harmonic and the relative bal-
ance between the fundamental and the harmonic had little ef-
fects. Even though this study is limited to one type of turboprop
sound and future investigations needs to extend these findings
to other sounds, it still suggest that certain modifications may
be more important and have more impact than others. The pre-
sent study introduced an alternative approach to the measure-
ment of human reaction to sound modifications that may be
used in future research and applications.
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