The perceived hazard of earcons in information technology exception messages: The effect of musical dissonance/consonance and pitch

T S Amer, Todd L. Johnson, Jo Mae B Maris, Gregory L. Neal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Scopus citations


The audio channel in computing interactions has been the focus of a variety of research interest in recent years. This paper examines one form of audio interface, earcons, in the context of information technology (IT) exception messages. Users of IT commonly encounter exception messages during their interactions with application programs. Exception messages often are accompanied by earcons which are aural messages of a musical nature used in the human-computer interface to provide information and feedback. Utilizing the notions of musical dissonance/consonance and pitch earcons were designed that vary as to their degree of aural disagreeableness and pitch. It is hypothesized that dissonant earcons (possessing aural disagreeableness) and low pitch earcons would be perceived as communicating a higher degree of hazard associated with an underlying computing problem signaled by an exception message. Results indicate support for the hypotheses. The implications are that it may be possible to increase the degree of hazard matching in IT environments by designing earcons to communicate different levels of perceived severity of an underlying computer problem.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)48-59
Number of pages12
JournalInteracting with Computers
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2013



  • earcons
  • exception messages
  • hazard matching

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Software

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