Spearcon compression levels influence the gap in comprehension between untrained and trained listeners.

Monika Srbinovska, Isaac S. Salisbury, Robert G. Loeb, Penelope M. Sanderson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Auditory alarms in hospitals are ambiguous and do not provide enough information to support doctors and nurses’ awareness of patient events. A potential alternative is the use of short segments of time-compressed speech, or spearcons. However, sometimes it might be desirable for patients to understand spearcons and sometimes not. We used reverse hierarchy theory to hypothesize that there will be a degree of compression where spearcons are intelligible for trained listeners but not for untrained listeners. In Experiment 1, spearcons were compressed to either 20% or 25% of their original duration. Their intelligibility was very high for trained participants, but also quite high for untrained participants. In Experiment 2 each word within each spearcon was compressed to a different degree based on the results of Experiment 1. This technique was effective in creating the desired difference in spearcon intelligibility between trained and untrained listeners. An implication of these results is that manipulating the degree of compression of spearcons “by word” can increase the effect of training so that untrained listeners reliably do not understand the content of the spearcons. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved) Public Significance Statement: Auditory alarms are often not very informative for clinicians who monitor their patients’ well-being. An alternative is to use time-compressed speech, or “spearcons,” to convey a much broader array of information about patients’ status. However, sometimes it is appropriate and sometimes inappropriate for patients or their families to know exactly what information is being conveyed. We report a way to compress spearcons so that knowledgeable trained listeners understand them, but casual listeners do not.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)69-83
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Applied
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021


  • patient monitoring
  • spearcons
  • time-compressed speech
  • training

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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