Bringing sounds into use: Thinking of sounds as materials and a sketch of auditory affordances

Christopher J. Steenson, Matthew W. M. Rodger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)
269 Downloads (Pure)


We live in a richly structured auditory environment. From the sounds of cars charging towards us on the street to the sounds of music filling a dancehall, sounds like these are generally seen as being instances of things we hear but can also be understood as opportunities for action. In some circumstances, the sound of a car approaching towards us can provide critical information for the avoidance of harm. In the context of a concert venue, sociocultural practices like music can equally afford coordinated activities of movement, such as dancing or music making. Despite how evident the behavioral effects of sound are in our everyday experience, they have been sparsely accounted for within the field of psychology. Instead, most theories of auditory perception have been more concerned with understanding how sounds are passively processed and represented or how they convey information of world, neglecting how this information can be used for anything. Here, we argue against these previous rationalizations, suggesting instead that information is instantiated through use and, therefore, is an emergent effect of a perceiver’s interaction with their environment. Drawing on theory from psychology, philosophy and anthropology, we contend that by thinking of sounds as materials, theorists and researchers alike can get to grips with the vast array of auditory affordances that we purposefully bring into use when interacting with the environment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)174-182
Number of pages9
JournalOpen Psychology Journal
Issue numberSuppl 3
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2015


  • affordances
  • auditory perception
  • ecological psychology
  • music
  • dance
  • sensorimotor coordination


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