You would think that the study of perception would be exempt from this suspicion, since the subject matter of the psychology of perception is supposed to be about how a person’s experience is derived from sensory input. Instead, academic psychology, in its behaviouristic zeal, redefined perception as the ability to respond differently to different stimuli – bringing it into the behaviourist framework. We may be doing research nowadays on cognitive processes, but the research methods are, on the whole, still restricted to behaviouristic ones. Since it was a perceptual experience of my own (the rapid sequence of unrelated sounds) that set me off on a 40-year period of study. of perceptual organization, I have always questioned the wisdom of this restriction.
In my many years of research on how and when a mixture of sounds will blend or be heard as separate sounds, my own personal experience and those of my students has played a central role in deciding what to study and how to study it. When I encouraged students to spend a lot of time listening to the stimuli and trying out different patterns of sound to see which ones would show the effect we were interested in, far into the academic year, and nearing the time that they should have been carrying out their experiments, they would get nervous and ask when they would start doing the “real research”. I told them that what they were doing now was the real research, and the formal experiment with subjects and statistics was just to convince other people.
Furthermore the role of subjectivity has often been criticized by journal reviewers: In the reviews of my first published article on auditory stream segregation, which showed that a rapid alternation of high and low sounds segregated into two perceptual streams, one of the skeptical reviewers proposed that there was something wrong with my loudspeakers – perhaps they continued to give out sound after the tone went off – and insisted that I test them.
I was convinced that if the reviewers had merely listened to the sounds, their objections would have evaporated, but in those days you didn't send in audio examples with your manuscript, and I’m not sure it would be acceptable for most journal editors even today.
Anyway, I got around the taboos about subjective data by giving many talks accompanied by auditory examples and by eventually publishing my own Compact Disk of auditory demonstrations. However, the CD didn't come until 23 years after the first research paper. Nowadays you could put demonstrations on the web and refer reviewers to the website.
Another thing that reviewers have criticized was the use of a subjective rating scale, asking listeners, for example, to rate on a 1 to 7 scale how clearly they could hear a sound in a mixture. Perception journals on the whole prefer tasks that involve accuracy. This is in keeping with the behaviouristic view of perception as the ability to make different responses to different stimuli. According to this view, you should be able to score the answers of the subjects as either correct or incorrect (For example by asking whether a particular sound was or was not present in a mixture of sounds) rather than simply accepting the listeners’ answers when they rate the clarity with which a target sound can be heard.
Sometimes we have used both types of measures, subjective rating scales and measures of accuracy, either in the same experiment or in a pair of related experiments. The two measures have given similar results, but the subjective rating scales have been more sensitive. I think the reason for their superiority is that they are a more direct measure of the experience, whereas turning one’s experience into the ability to form a discrimination between sounds brings in many other psychological processes that are involved in comparison and decision making.
As a result of my belief in experience as an important part of Psychology, I’m going to try to describe some of my research on auditory perception, but I won't give any data. Instead, I’m going to support my arguments with audio demonstrations to the extent that time permits.