Composing alarms: considering the musical aspects of auditory alarm design
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Short melodies are commonly linked to referents in jingles, ringtones, movie themes, and even auditory displays (i.e., sounds used in human-computer interactions). While melody associations can be quite effective, auditory alarms in medical devices are generally poorly learned and highly confused. Here, we draw on approaches and stimuli from both music cognition (melody recognition) and human factors (alarm design) to analyze the patterns of confusions in a paired-associate alarm-learning task involving both a standardized melodic alarm set (Experiment 1) and a set of novel melodies (Experiment 2). Although contour played a role in confusions (consistent with previous research), we observed several cases where melodies with similar contours were rarely confused - melodies holding musically distinctive features. This exploratory work suggests that salient features formed by an alarm's melodic structure (such as repeated notes, distinct contours, and easily recognizable intervals) can increase the likelihood of correct alarm identification. We conclude that the use of musical principles and features may help future efforts to improve the design of auditory alarms.
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