Modifying distracting headphone audio to increase situation awareness
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Listener situation awareness (SA) was assessed in a dynamic auditory-only simulated roadway environment created with a multi-speaker setup. The ability of the listener to accurately report the presence, current location, and future location of auditory “vehicles” was measured. This was done in the presence of different presentation methods for distracting music played over headphones, in order to assess which combination of methods was least detrimental to SA. The chief manipulation was whether distracting music was virtually spatialized, which was expected to increase the ease of auditory stream segregation and ultimately improve SA. Also manipulated were two common safety measures that interact with spatialization quality: (a) whether bone conduction or air conduction headphones were used; and (b) whether sounds were presented to one or two ears. Spatialization of distracting music had positive effects on hazard localization under some conditions, but negative effects on hazard presence awareness. Using one ear and bone conduction headphones each had positive effects on SA. Results indicate that pedestrians and cyclists should utilize bone conduction headphones and/or listen with one ear, and that designers and developers should consider spatializing distracting sounds as a safety measure.