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A Unified Theory of Psychophysical Laws in Auditory Intensity Perception.


Psychophysical laws quantitatively relate perceptual magnitude to stimulus intensity. While most people have accepted Stevens's power function as the psychophysical law, few believe in Fechner's original idea using just-noticeable-differences (jnd) as a constant perceptual unit to educe psychophysical laws. Here I present a unified theory in hearing, starting with a general form of Zwislocki's loudness function (1965) to derive a general form of Brentano's law. I will arrive at a general form of the loudness-jnd relationship that unifies previous loudness-jnd theories. Specifically, the "slope," "proportional-jnd," and "equal-loudness, equal-jnd" theories, are three additive terms in the new unified theory. I will also show that the unified theory is consistent with empirical data in both acoustic and electric hearing. Without any free parameters, the unified theory uses loudness balance functions to successfully predict the jnd function in a wide range of hearing situations. The situations include loudness recruitment and its jnd functions in sensorineural hearing loss and simultaneous masking, loudness enhancement and the midlevel hump in forward and backward masking, abnormal loudness and jnd functions in cochlear implant subjects. Predictions of these loudness-jnd functions were thought to be questionable at best in simultaneous masking or not possible at all in forward masking. The unified theory and its successful applications suggest that although the specific form of Fechner's law needs to be revised, his original idea is valid in the wide range of hearing situations discussed here.

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