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Designing Auditory Spaces to Support Sense of Place:

The Role of Expectation

Priscilla Chueng & Phil Marsden
Interactive Technology Research Group
School of Computing and Engineering
University of Huddersfield
Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, UK
{p.chueng; p.h.marsden}


This paper reviews current approaches to designing virtual

environments and investigates aspects of influence in
designing auditory spaces to support novel forms of
interaction in virtual places. Initial research on human
imagined sounds from places has identified expectation as
an important psychological construct, which must be
considered when designing sounds for virtual places. The
research work continues to provide evidence that there are
differences between sounds people expect to hear in places
and sounds recorded in real life places. Instead of designing
realistic virtual spaces, the paper suggests a users sense of
presence as a measure of the users experience in virtual
environment. The results indicate that using highly
expected sounds increases users sense of presence. As
such, it is to propose that designing auditory spaces using
expectations as perceived affordance is perhaps a minimal
way to design auditory spaces that support sense of place,
hence provoke the emergence of virtual communities.
Future work of the project is discussed.
Audio, Auditory Display,
Environments, Presence





Modern communication technologies, like virtual

environments, aim to create virtual spaces in which people
can exchange ideas. These virtual environments support
social interaction in many different forms through the
supporting of the emergence of virtual places.
There are various types of virtual environments deriving
from such diverse origins of technological platforms and
design of applications. Collaborative virtual environments
such as DIVE [15] and MASSIVE [25], support group work
through spatial virtual worlds which allow embodied
interaction. Workspaces can be enhanced through mediaspaces, which aim to support peripheral awareness whilst
maintaining working relationships between physically
remote colleagues through audio video communication
facilities [6]. While tele-presence systems try to imitate

reality for users to experience a remote physical space

through an immersive display, augmented reality systems
integrate virtual and physical space for a combination of
digital and physical information.
Despite their deviated natures of design, these virtual
environments mainly 1) aim to create virtual, hybrid spaces
or space-less systems [27] in order to support peoples
daily lives and work through novel forms of social
interaction among virtual communities, 2) allow the use of
multimedia communication through human sensory
channels such as vision, auditory, haptic, etc.

Humans have a tendency to imitate reality. Early designs of

simulators and tele-operations mainly focus on emulating
real task. These historical influences have resulted in
current research focusing on the design of virtual systems,
which centralize around spatial models of interaction [3] and
real life metaphors, in particularly designing affordances for
virtual space. The design involves implementation of
spatial topographical data and is heavily dependent upon
environmental stimuli and users perception and imagery. In
these environments, recognition and interpretation of
stimuli input that registers our senses are taken as important
aspects to optimise the virtual experience.
However, perceptual realism attained through accurate
perspective projection may not always be the best approach
to effectively convey information. For example, intentional
distortion is employed in cartography to exaggerate features
[30] and artistic dis tortion to represent a realistic
appearance [24]. Furthermore, Gaver suggested that
collaborative systems using audio-visual technologies have
different properties for perception and interaction [19]. The
nature of collaboration can be very different from those
happening in our everyday world, which is rich in
perceptual information from objects and events. In such,
virtual environments can be designed with challenges and
opportunities this technology has to offer.
After all, it is humans who are interacting in the virtual
environment. Dourishs notion of place [27] puts forward

Chueng, P., Marsden, P., Designing Auditory Spaces to Support Sense of Place: The Role of Expectation. Position paper for The Role of
Place in On-line Communities Workshop, CSCW2002, New Orleans, November 2002.

the idea that the properties of space have little bearing on

shaping virtual communities, but only on our behaviour and
actions within them. As he states: Space is the
opportunity; place is the understood reality. We design
space by mean of appropriate behavioural framing [27] for
action and behaviour to happen in the space.
We can argue that designing virtual environments, which
mimic spatial orientation of the real world, is perhaps too
simplistic a technological solution. A deviation from
realistic patterns of information representation may allow
virtual experience to be more effective than reality itself. In
such, the concept of presence is introduced as a minimal
approach to designing virtual environments, taking away
the realism goal of conventional virtual design.
The concept of presence [29] has becoming well accepted
as the key concept to redefine virtual environments.
Presence is defined as the perceptual illusion of "being
there" in a mediated environment [29,34] for an engaging
experience. An illusion of non-mediation occurs when user
fails to perceive or acknowledge the existence of a medium
in the environment and responds as if the medium were not
Indeed, we need not denied one or another of the above
approaches. Aimed at combining useful elements from each
of the approaches mentioned for an engaging virtual
experience, this project explores an alternative way of using
auditory space to support sense of place, hence provoke
the emergence of virtual communities. It is important to
understand the users perceptual responses to auditory
cues, when they are combined with the understanding of
context awareness for interaction in virtual spaces.

Although vision tends to be the dominant sensory channel,

it is reported that auditory cues are important to the
establishment of a full sense of presence in virtual
environments. Research on suddenly deafened adults
reported that subjects feel a sense of disconnection from
their surrounding [23]. Sound conveys a wide range of
information about events and surroundings, providing
timely information and constant awareness of people and
background events [32,11]. The "Cocktail Party Effect"
noted that our auditory channel monitors several audio
streams simultaneously, selectively focusing on any one,
and placing the rest into the background of our awareness
[26]. Not only that but sound is temporal, it is perceived
spatially in relation to the listeners location [36]. Absence
of sound in the environment can result in inaccurate spatial
orientation [21]. This unique characteristic of sound helps
users navigation in a virtual system [13] and also assists in
identifying the directions and locations of rooms, objects or
even events in virtual spaces [2].
Work done by acoustics research, outlined above is further
compliment by the notion that auditory space is a truly
shared space, which can be all pervasive [27]. For example,

people may attend to different visual presentation but at the

same time, share the same auditory space. Furthermore
sound from one space can reach out to another space in a
way that visual stimulus cannot.
The ecological approach to auditory perception

The ecological approach to auditory perception [16,17]

notes that although we understand scientific descriptions
of auditory perception, phenomenally we dont hear
acoustic signals or sound waves but instead we hear events
[16,17]: the sounds of people and things moving, changing,
beginning and ending, forever interdependent of the
dynamics of the present moment. We hear the sound of
silence for example. We hear the semantics of sound
producing objects, events and the environment. This is
what we call everyday listening. Ecological approach is the
central approach of this research project.
Acknowledging the importance of auditory channels, there
has been an increasing activity in the area of auditory
display research. This research project focuses on the
sound generated from surroundings, which has been termed
ecological sound, environment sound, sound-scapes,
ambient sound or everyday listening sounds, respectively.

The research aims to understand the users perceptual

responses to auditory cues, when they are combined with
the understanding of context awareness for interaction in
virtual spaces, and how it can be used to support a sense of
place in virtual spaces.
The main contribution to knowledge made by the research
will be to provide virtual environment designers with
guidelines for designing sound for virtual spaces that will
provoke a shared sense of place amongst virtual
A range of user studies and experiments has been carried
out aiming to investigate guidelines to design minimal
sound in virtual spaces that support sense of place among
virtual communities.
INITIAL STUDY: Sounds we imagine to hear in places

The research work started off by studying users

interpretations of experiencing real life auditory spaces. An
open interview was carried out to investigate the sounds
which people imagine they can hear in four different real life
places, namely: a pub, a supermarket, a high street and a
Results from the initial study [8] showed participants
tended to report sounds according to the context of the
place from sound producing objects and events, such as,
people talking, people shouting, the wind etc. [16, 17].
From these results, it is to propose that expectation and
discrimination [8] can be the important perceived
affordances of sound producing objects that contribute to
sense of place for users and contribute to a feeling of

Chueng, P., Marsden, P., Designing Auditory Spaces to Support Sense of Place: The Role of Expectation. Position paper for The Role of
Place in On-line Communities Workshop, CSCW2002, New Orleans, November 2002.

presence. Expectation defines the extent to which a person

will expect to hear a sound in a particular place;
Discrimination is the extent to which a sound will help to
uniquely identify a particular place. As such, the most
useful sounds are those that elicit either high expectation or
high discrimination from the listener.
ONLINE SURVEY: How much do we expect and
discriminate sounds in places?

We further confirmed this outcome with an online survey

with aims at gathering quantitatively ratings of the range of
highly expected and highly discriminated sound producing
objects and events reported from the initial study. The place
chosen for this study was the Pub.

For each sound listed, 20 participants of age 18 to 40 years

from the UK rated their expectation and discrimination by
answering two questions related to the Pub. A sample of
the questionnaire [10] can be seen at the web site ~ No
time restriction was placed on participant before stating
their answers.
Question for level of expectation: How frequently do you
expect to hear each of these sounds? (Rating: High,
moderately high, moderate, moderately low, low, not at all)
Question for level of discrimination: Using your judgement,
to what extent do you think each of these sounds is unique
to a pub environment (Rating: High, moderately high,
moderate, moderately low, low, not at all) .
Data analysis
Data gathered from the initial study and from the online
survey on the pub were analysed using quantitative and
qualitative techniques. Figure 1 shows the comparison of
expectation scores from the two studies.






people talking










foot steps





glasses clink





tills open & close




chair & table move





people laughing





gambling machine
freezer humming

scores from online survey shown are the means of ratings

collected from participants.
Discrimination scores of initial study are taken from
qualitatively comparing count of the particular sound
reported across four places and transformed into five points
scale. Discrimination of online survey is the means of
ratings collected from participants.

Overall results show low differences between expectation

scores between the two studies but higher differences
between discrimination scores between two studies. T-tests
shows that there are no significance differences between 1)
expectation ratings from initial study and online survey (t=0.395, df=9, p= 0.702); 2) discrimination ratings from initial
study and online survey (t=1.545, df=9, p=0.157). As such,
the online survey has proven the validity of the proposed
expectation and discrimination as important roles on people
sounds imagined in places from initial study.
COMPARISON STUDY: Real life auditory spaces vs.
expected auditory spaces.

Analysis from the above user studies [8,9] suggests that

what people expect to hear in real life places can be
significantly different from what they actually hear in real
life places. Expectation as a dimension for sound design is
not new for film sound designers [7]. For example, the
dinosaurs foot steps in the movie Jurassic Park was
created by recording the sound of a heavy weight being
dropping from a great height. There is however no empirical
work to date carried out on this area. Thus, this study aims
to investigate the differences between sounds recorded
from real life places and sounds reported from peoples
expectation. The pub is picked as one of the places for this
study for its variety of sound producing objects in a closure
environment. We reported the qualitative analysis of this
study on Pub.

Four places are chosen to analyse: Pub, Supermarket. High

Street and Train Station. To reproduce realistic sound,
binaural recording [5,22] methods were used for recording.
A pair of mini microphones made by AKG model 417pp was
attached to both ears of the sound engineer who stands in
the middle of the places to imitate real life hearing of
participants. Sound clips with length of ten minutes were
digitised to 44khz and 16 bit from a DAT tape to a Cd -ROM.
Sound clips were played back using headphones make by
Sennheiser model eH2270.








Data analysis and Result





Analysis on recorded sound is done in three fold. We

investigates 1) sounds that happened continuously
through out not less then two third of the duration of
recordings. 2) forefront sounds which catches the most
attention 3) sounds happened in serendipity. We then
compare the data to the sounds reported from initial study.

Figure 1 Level of expectation from online survey.

Expectation scores from initial study is generated by
transformed mean of total count reported from participants
on the particular sound into five points scale. Expectation

Chueng, P., Marsden, P., Designing Auditory Spaces to Support Sense of Place: The Role of Expectation. Position paper for The Role of
Place in On-line Communities Workshop, CSCW2002, New Orleans, November 2002.

Preliminary result from qualitative study by listening to

recorded pub shown some differences between real life
sound and peoples expectation. Qualitative analysis on
sounds recorded from real life places have shown many
layers of information depending on the sound producing
objects in the environment. Sounds that people expect to
hear are consists of 1) sounds profoundly heard from a
place which generated from typical activity that
characterised the place and 2) sound heard continuously,
generated from a sound producing object. The major
differences are drawn by the difference between 1) the
hearing dominance of a sound-producing object in real life
in comparison to peoples expectation and 2) the degree of
contextual information relevant to the places.



High Street

Train Station

EXPERIMENT: The effect of expectation on peoples

sense of presence.

From previous studies, expectation is identified as an

important construct to be considered in sound design. The
aim of this experiment was to investigate if the expectation
of sounds in places, influence peoples sense of the
presence. During the experiment, participants mental
models are prompted by still image of places while listening
to audio clip recorded from real life places. Initially, four
places from the initial study were chosen for this
experiment. : Pub, Supermarket, High Street and Park.
However we encountered difficulty in recording clarity of
sound from a park. It was therefore decided that train
station was chosen to replace the Park and the Park is used
for familiarisation of participants at the beginning of each

The main hypothesis for this experiment is that a persons

sense of presence will increase with high expectation. This
is achieved by displaying matching visual images together
with matching audio clips. Secondly, correct responses of
peoples memory task collected from places -related
questions of both sounds and visuals are expected to be
higher with high expectation. Thirdly, low expectation
(mismatched audio-visual) will result peoples irritation and
hence participants parasympathetic reading will be higher.

The experiment uses a two factorial within subjects design.

The dependent variables are (1) total weight collected from
sense of presence questionnaire (rank with the scale of
five). (2) Number of correct responses collected from places related questions of sounds and visuals. 3) Electro dermal
To reproduce realistic sound, binaural recording [5,22]
methods were used for recording. A pair of mini
microphones made by AKG model 417pp was attached to
both ears of the sound engineer who stands in the middle of
the places to imitate real life hearing of participants. Sound
clips with length of 60 seconds were digitised to 44khz and

Figure 2 Visual images of real life places.

16 bit from a DAT tape to a PC computer. Images sized 800 x
600 pixels were captured by digital camera.
During the experiment, the facilitator uses a Multimedia
Pentium PC computer to play back sequence of audio and
visual images through Macromedia Director. Images were
projected to a white screen in a darken room using a digital
projector whilst sound clips were played back using
headphones make by Sennheiser model eH2270.
Twenty participants took part in this experiment. They were
a mixture of students and staff with a variant age of 22 to 50
from schools of computing, engineering and music, at the
University of Huddersfield. None had hearing problems and
all either had normal vision or wore prescribed corrective
lenses. Participants are exposed to matching or
mismatching visual stimuli while listening to sound clips
recorded from real life places.
There are four variations of audio-visual pairs combination.
Five participants were chosen randomly for each variation.
Every variation consists of two pairs of matching audiovisuals and two pairs mismatching audio-visuals, nonrepeated in random order.
They are asked to 1) record their sense of presence by
answering a sound related presence questionnaire, 2)
answer place-related questions from each sound listened to
and each image viewed. During every audio-visual display,
their readings of parasympathetic responses of arousal are
recorded using psycho-physiological sensors.
Each participant takes approximately twenty minutes to
finish viewing five audio-visual displays. Audio-visual
stimuli of the park were used for familiarisation purpose.
Following each display, they answer nine sounds-related
presence questionnaire taken from SVUP [28] with fivescale rating, and places-related questions (three taken from
information of sound clip and three taken from information
of visual displayed) using paper and pen. Parasympathetic

Chueng, P., Marsden, P., Designing Auditory Spaces to Support Sense of Place: The Role of Expectation. Position paper for The Role of
Place in On-line Communities Workshop, CSCW2002, New Orleans, November 2002.

responses of Galvanic Skin Resistance (GSR) and Blood

Volume Pulse (BVP) are captured using Datalab 2000 and
software Biobench.

Therefore, expectation can be concluded to be possible

perceived affordance to be design in to virtual


The final experiment investigated the effect of expectation

on peoples sense of presence. When expectation of a place
is met while hearing auditory spaces, peoples sense of
presence (perceptual illusion of being there) is
encouraged. This shows that expectation can be taken as an
element to design sound in virtual environment to provoke
effective users experience.

The overall mean of presence score is higher for matching

audio-visual than mismatching audio-visual. T-test (t=5.990,
df=78, p<0.00) shown that presence scores for matching
audio-visual is significance difference between two results
(figure 3).


memory task for matching AV


memory task for mismatching AV


presence scores for matching AV

presence scores for mismatch AV


GSR for matching AV


GSR for mismatching AV


Figure 3 Means scores for matching and mismatching pair

Thus, users sense of presence increased with high
expectation (matching stimuli). Low expectation with
mismatched audio and visual stimuli resulted in a lower
sense of presence.
Although the overall mean of memory task reponses is
higher for higher expectation (figure 3), the result is
however in significance (t=0.746, df=78, p=0.458).
We takes average of each participants GSR reading for both
match and mismatch. Preliminary analysis shows eleven out
of twenty participants shown a higher GSR while exposed to
mismatching stimuli (figure 3). However t-test shown
insignificance result (t=-0.068, df=78, p=0.946)
The preliminary analysis on the data has shown
significance result on presence but insignificance results for
memory tasks reponses and parasympathetic measurement.
This can be resulted from 1) some degree of dependency on
types of images and sounds displayed, 2) Memory task
questions were too easy, 3) individual differences in GSR
readings. Further work in this analysis will be undertaken.

The aim of the work described in this paper was to

investigate aspects influencing sound that people imagine
to hear in real life places, and take the outcome to guide
designing sound in virtual environment for an effective
users experience.
The initial study qualitatively investigated what extent
people imagine hearing sound from places. Expectation and
discrimination are identified as two constructs on how
people imagine hearing sound from places. The online
survey further investigated and proven the validity of the
initial study.
The comparison study shows that these expectations are
different from auditory spaces heard in real life places.


Sound has been under used as a medium for novel

interaction in virtual environments. The current trend of
designing sound in virtual environment has two extremes: 1)
Imitation of reality by designing high fidelity realistic
sound. 2) The use of low resolutions MIDI for network
transmission. The former produces sound file digitally big in
size but the latter tends to provide less convincing auditory
experience. Taking the difference of what we really want to
hear and what we really hear, it is plausible to employ the
extent of expectation as the design element to be
considered while designing sound in a virtual space to
achieve an effective user experience.
The empirical works have demonstrated the possibility of
designing contextually unrealistic auditory spaces for
effective users experience in virtual environments taking
expectation as perceived affordance. Moreover the
minimal approach using the extent of expectation offers a
way to allowing uses of sound in bandwidth constrained
virtual environments such as networked collaborative
virtual environments while not losing contextual information
of place and the fidelity of sound.
In addition, the characteristics of auditory space as spatial,
temporal, pervasive and truly shared space can well be an
alternative way to effectively representation a sense of
place in virtual space and in turn take away the overload of
visual. By tackling this research from the angle of human
primary auditory perception and using auditory spaces to
support sense of place, user experience is optimised in
virtual environments while the unnecessarily use of
bandwidth hungry technology is avoided.

Future work involves further investigations on expectation

as the perceived affordance to design sound for virtual
environments to support 1) sense of place and 2) copresence among virtual communities. The investigations
will take place in virtual spaces built in active worlds [34] of
Pub, Supermarket, High Street, Train Station and Park.
1) Various numbers of sound expected and unexpected
are presented in the above mention virtual spaces. The
experiment hypothesizes that higher expectation
achieves by higher number of expected sounds
presented in a virtual space will increase a) successful

Chueng, P., Marsden, P., Designing Auditory Spaces to Support Sense of Place: The Role of Expectation. Position paper for The Role of
Place in On-line Communities Workshop, CSCW2002, New Orleans, November 2002.

completion of users navigation task, b) users sense of

presence c) the ability of user to identify a virtual place.
2) Non-verbal sound generated by users in multi-user
virtual environments such as footsteps and rustling of
clothes is the key element to investigate in this work.
The study aims to identify minimum sounds needed to
provoke users co-presence.
An evaluation study will conclude the research project by
building virtual auditory spaces in virtual environments
based on the outcomes gathered from our previous studies
and experiments. The research will provide guidelines for
future virtual environments developers with regard to
designing minimum auditory space to support virtual places
for an effective user experience.

This project is funded by the DRIVE project grant,

University of Huddersfield held by Janet Finlay and Phil
Marsden. I am grateful to Jacqueline Brodie from Brunel
University for valuable discussions about place and virtual
communities and added readability of the initial submission
of this paper. I also thank Andrew Monk from the
University of York for valuable comments on the paper.

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Chueng, P., Marsden, P., Designing Auditory Spaces to Support Sense of Place: The Role of Expectation. Position paper for The Role of
Place in On-line Communities Workshop, CSCW2002, New Orleans, November 2002.