A systematic review of human perceptual dimensions of sound: Meta-analysis of semantic differential method applications to indoor and outdoor sounds

Kuen Wai Ma, Hai Ming Wong, Cheuk Ming Mak

Research output: Journal article publicationReview articleAcademic researchpeer-review

47 Citations (Scopus)


People spend most of their lives in buildings and unavoidably perceive the sound in their surroundings. The understanding of the human perceptual dimensions of sound is important for obtaining the occupant-oriented decision-making in future building designs. This paper presented a systematic review of the studies analyzing the human perceptual dimensions of sound. Studies that used of principal component analysis (PCA) or factor analysis (FA) for the semantic differential method (SDM) applications of the subjective measurements of the human perceptions of sound were identified in the study selection process and included in the quantitative analysis. Forty-five eligible studies covered a wide range of sounds in the general indoor environment, including machines, building facilities, human voices, human activities, transportations, and the urban environment. The meta-analysis of the factor analysis integrated the data from the 39 individual studies and generated the evidence-based results of the review. Three major perceptual dimensions of sound were found to be ”Evaluation,” ”Potency,” and ”Activity” which referred to the human general judgment, the sensitivity to the magnitude, and the sensation of the temporal and spectral compositions of the perceived sound respectively. It implied that not only the energy level but also the energy distribution of the stimulations in the environment affects our perceptions. The review also provided insights into the selection of the suitable perceptions, the suggestions on the SDM applications, and the acoustics index development for the quantification of the psychological impacts of sound on the occupants in the indoor and outdoor environment. This research provides directions for future psychoacoustics studies to analyze the correlations between the objective stimulations and the human perceptions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-150
Number of pages28
JournalBuilding and Environment
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2018


  • Acoustics index development
  • Building acoustics
  • Meta-analysis
  • Perceptual dimensions of sound
  • Psychoacoustics
  • Semantic deferential method

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Building and Construction

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