Psychology, Department of



This paper was prepared by an interdisciplinary group of researchers gathered at the request of the National Science Foundation in the fall of 1997 in association with the International Conference on Auditory Display (ICAD).


Sonification is the use of nonspeech audio to convey information. The goal of this report is to provide the reader with (1) an understanding of the field of sonification, (2) an appreciation for the potential of sonification to answer a variety of scientific questions, (3) a grasp of the potential for sonification applications to facilitate communication and interpretation of data, and (4) specific ideas for productive support of sonification research.

The field is composed of the following three components: (1) psychological research in perception and cognition, (2) development of sonification tools for research and application, and (3) sonification design and application. In reviewing the current status of each of these components, some common themes become apparent. One is a trend toward research in high-level perceptual issues and development of corresponding complex tools. Another is the potential importance of multimodal displays. Finally, an overarching theme is the need for interdisciplinary research and interaction. By nature, the field of sonification is interdisciplinary, integrating concepts from human perception, acoustics, design, the arts, and engineering.

In order to establish a discipline of sonification, three global issues must be addressed The first is the need for recognition of sonification as a valid area of research. The recognition and funding of sonification by the National Science Foundation (NSF) can play a major role in this validation. The second is communication within the sonification community. We propose support for coordinated workshops and conferences and a peer-reviewed journal of sonification.

The final issue is the need to provide a curriculum for teaching sonification.

We recommend the following research agenda. Perception and cognition research should focus on dynamic sound perception, auditory scene analysis, multimodal interaction, and the role of memory and attention in extracting information from sound. The development of sonification tools should focus on providing the user with flexible control over data dimensions and sound parameters, facilitating data exchange to and from a variety of formats and display systems, and integrating a perceptual testing and evaluation framework. Applications and design research should focus on the formulation of a method for sonification design. In addition to funding promising flagship applications, task-dependent and user-centered approaches to sonification design should be supported. Timbre perception studies should be furthered and coupled with data-to-sound parameter-mapping research. Other worthy research topics in basic sonification theory and design research include aesthetics , metaphor, affect, applications of gestalt formation.

A coordinated interdisciplinary research effort supported by moderate funding at the national level is necessary if sonification research is to prosper. The resultant advances in both basic research and technology development will contribute to scientific and commercial applications, which will then feed back into the development of the field. National Science Foundation funding and leadership can help to accelerate this process.