Depolarizing the perceptual magnet effect

Andrew J. Lotto, Keith R. Kluender, Lori L. Holt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


In recent years there has been a great deal of interest in demonstrations of the so-called 'Perceptual-Magnet Effect' (PME). In these studies, AX-discrimination tasks purportedly reveal that discriminability of speech sounds from a single category varies with judged phonetic 'goodness' of the sounds. However, one possible confound is that category membership is determined by identification of sounds in isolation, whereas, discrimination tasks include pairs of stimuli. In the first experiment of the current study, identifications and goodness judgments were obtained for vowels (/i/-/e/) presented in pairs. A substantial shift in phonetic identity was evidenced with changes in the context vowel. In a second experiment, listeners participated in an AX-discrimination task with the vowel pairs from the first experiment. Using the contextual identification functions from the first experiment, predictions of discriminability were calculated using the classic tenets of Categorical Perception. Obtained discriminability functions were well accounted for by predictions from identification. There was no additional unexplained variance that required the proposal of 'perceptual magnets.' These results suggest that PME may be nothing more than further demonstration that general discriminability is greater for cross-category stimulus pairs than for within-category pairs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3648-3655
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of the Acoustical Society of America
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1998
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Acoustics and Ultrasonics


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