Why"double blind"tests don't work:brain?

In Kubla's poop post realized why double blind testing doesn't work. The parts of the brain used for "enjoyment" and "critical listening" are different and only cooperate under certain conditions (except in a few highly trained individuals)
So at home in normal listening we can evaluate things as we switch from enjoying to thinking about what we are listening to. But in a "test" or controlled environment, the brain's enjoyment cells are too stressed or??? to get in and take part. The Ego is demanding the utmost from the evaluation and the most needed parts of the brain (the enjoying parts) do not cooperate. (read this in context of my post in the Kubla's "poop" post) So the testee fails to notice the real difference under the test conditions that they Do notice at home...(though a few exceptional individuals can do this)
This is TOTALLY speculative and I just throw it out for our mutual amusement... But please feel free to take part in this thread
Elizabeth, I'm trying to evaluate what it is you are saying, but the enjoying cells in my brain are not allowing the thinking cells to grasp your concept. Thanks!
This idea strikes me as very interesting. As a soon-to-be neuropsychologist, I've read up on things like this. As it turns out, the sections of the brain responsible for musical perception, recognition, and possibly production(this is too diffuse to really comment on with the current level of brain-behavior knowledge) are generally lateralized to the right hemisphere. However, in musicians, it's generally in the left. Musicians may be using different styles of processing with regard to music than the rest of us (possibly the critical listening sections you refer to). I personally have avoided learning too much about the physics of sound reproduction, the history of music, and the vocabulary or orchestral terminology associated with symphonies, etc. The reason is that I prefer NOT to be able to LABEL (a verbal task, associated with left hemisphere activity) what I am hearing all that precisely. I have always had a fear, perhaps paranoid, perhaps justified, that by doing so I will start enjoying it less, by switching to more left hemisphere type processing. I wish to stay with right-hemisphere type processing when it comes to music, as it is more emotional vs. analytical and more perceptive vs. descriptive or judgmental. Have you ever noticed that the words we have to describe high end equipment sonic characteristics (analytical, warm, dry, airy, etc.) don't quite cut it? That may be because what we're trying to describe are characteristics that really are non-verbal. I, for one, intend to keep it that way...
Double blind testing can work if the listener keeps the criteria for comparison simple, such as "is there a differnce." If you start looking for subjective thoughts such as warm, analytical, too many variables are being injected.
I had an interesting experience a few years ago. I was auditioning a CD player that had upgraded parts. (The usual audio jive, eg. Massive power supplies, increased insulation, transparent resistors). After comparing the Players, I thought the new player had better base weight, clarity etc. Since both players were in the same rack, and had the same remote, there were no clues to which player was operating. It was only after I was returning the demo that I realized by clever wife had swithched the cables, and my preferred player was the unmodified one.
Hi Elizabeth; good thread. I believe the typical aupiophile becomes intimately familiar with their own systems, in their own rooms, and with their own music. And in that environment they can easily detect pretty small changes/differences. I know that's the case with me. But if taken away from my own system or out of the environment that I created-- well, all bets are off.

Of course gross differences can be detected--but subtleties, no, IMHO. And as Elizabeth suggests, stresses can easily negatively influence the subject's test responses.

An in-store audition is not of much use to me for this reason-- the possible exception being speakers. But even with speakers, you can only get a general idea of their "character"-- they WILL sound different in your room. Cheers. Craig.
i'm skeptical of the left brain-right brain explanation for abx failure. eruliaf xba rof noitanalpxe niarb thgir-niarb tfel eht fo lacitpeks m'i.
The stress theory combined with the "it's not my system so I don't really know it" reality is a dangerous combination. Add the nuances that come with simply shifting cables, as reported in earlier threads, and it's not surprising that the double blind tests don't consistently reveal anything. Image and advertising aside, I wonder how many of the Coke drinkers who picked Pepsi in a blind taste test really switched drinks afterward? The two really are different. Under stress and in a strange environment, it's not easy to pick the one you love (at least not with regards to what we're talking about here). Cheers.
Cornfed, great post!!! I would give you +2/+2, but I don't vote.
I have always thought that the difficulty people, including myself, have with this has to do with expectations and perceptual sets.

I think, similar to Elizabeth's comments, that when we are expecting to hear a difference and are trying to be analytical our brain tries to force the information from our senses into our existing experience/thought structures and we end up denying our senses because of our tendency to force experiental information into existing perceptual sets. This is the same reason that camoflage(sp?) does not necessarily have to mimic the visual background it resides in to be effective. It just has to break up the image of an object and our brain will integrate the object into existing perceptual sets.

From my intro to psych class back at the cow college I seem to remember that this concept underlies the use of Rorsach(sp?)or inkblot tests. They attempt to make you divulge your perceptual sets in response to a picture.

On the other hand when we are just listening/viewing without a goal in mind, our perceptual sets are not as active. For instance, we would see the pictures in the inkblot test as inkblots and not pictures. In this mode we hear/see what is really there instead of trying to force predetermined structure on our senses.

While I agree that we listen differently based on our objectives in listening I do not think it is a "hardware" problem having to do with the structure or operation of the brain. I think its a "software" problem that prevents us from being accurate and objective

I would really like to hear from anyone with some training in this area.
Ignatz, I'm interested in what you have to say, but am not quite sure what you mean by software vs. hardware. I didn't quite get the connection with what you had just been saying. Please explain.

One comment, when we are listening/viewing without a goal in mind, our pereceptual sets are still quite active, perhaps even more so, although not in the same way. Anyway, it's all based on very limited empirical knowledge with much variation between individuals...

BTW, right on about the Rorschach. I administer this all the time. It's one of a class of assessment instruments called projectives, because, as you say, there's nothing really on the card but a bunch of ink, and what people report seeing is thought to represent their psychological themes, which they "project" onto the image. However, these themes may be verbal, emotional, kinesthetic, whatever. Even looking at the pictures without a goal, images are projected onto the blot, just as our cognitive, emotional, and other biases color the physical stimulus when we listen to music, regardless of what frame of mind we are in. When a person reports just seeing blots of ink, the traditional interpretation is that they are not being forthcoming and/or are 'defending' against their psychological processes, either consciously or unconsciously. I've tried it myseslf - you really have to try hard to stop from seeing things in the blots. It's not that they're really there, it's just that we're hard-wired pattern-detectors. All right, I'm blathering, sorry. Anyway, I can't emphasize enough (so I won't really try) that there's not enough solid data to back up music-related brain-behavior phenomena hypotheses in any real firm way. However, I'll run this whole thing by my neuropsych supervisor and the hospital neurologist and see what they have to say!
I guess I do not agree. Years ago when I first got into upgrading cables I started with an interconnect from my CD Player to integrated amp. I went to a dealer I trusted who who could duplicate my system (and they did). I was totally blind; the salesperson (an electrical engineer by training) switched cables around for me to listen to without telling me what cables he was using or how much they cost. I found out later they ranged in price from $70 a pair to $400. I would respond with: "I like" or "do not like" these cables compared to the ones that came before. I had him switch back to the other cable to confirm I liked it better. He did a lot of switching around and would eliminate the ones I did not like. I eventually settled on a cable which he revealed to be a Nordost Blue Heaven; about in the middle based on price. There was one cable I hated that smeared the sound of that setup which I later found out was a Kimber cable that is very popular seller. So blind testing worked for me.

Secondly this is how HiFi Choice Magazine basically does their panel reviews, which for me are the best I have found for getting a feel for budget audiophile gear before going for a listen.


Thanks for your comments. What I mean by hardware is the physical parameters of your brain/nervous system, like the product specs for a computer. The software part is the information processing routines inside your head. It is my understanding that we filter the information provided by our senses to add meaning, prioritize information, etc. so that what I perceive is not what you perceive, what I perceive is not what I perceived when I was a child, etc. I guess my point would be that we use different filters in different situations, and the filters we use are selectable and can be modified.

As an example when I was young I used to hunt out in the vast wastes of West Texas. There was a rancher out there who could see a deer totally hidden inside a bush at about a thousand yards. He didn't have better vision, in fact his vision sucked.He told me he could see the deer because he wasn't looking for a deer he was looking for a piece of a deer; the tip of an antler, an ear, a patch of hair. I practiced this and got to where I could almost find all the deer he could find. I had developed a new piece of software/searchtool/filter. It still wasn't my default software as it required conscious action to use it, but my perception had been radically altered without a change in the physical structure of my processor (brain) or the input (sense info)

I think similar things happen when we listen to music for enjoyment vs. listening to equipment that happens to be producing music. In the first we are looking at a landscape and in the second for deer. I hope this has been coherent.
Thanks Ignatz. Good example. Now that you explain it again, it does remind me of certain cognitive models, although there are many models that blend the "software" and "hardware" components such that they're not really separate. I wonder if we'll ever know...

Anyway, the real reason I'm resposting is that I wanted to comment that I actually agree with Sugarbrie. I've done A-B testing (and other variants: a-b-a-b, etc.), and it's worked pretty well for me. My wife and I use it to select components, and we've found good test-retest reliability doing it. It does make me curious about why so many of us have this experience and so many experts (Dunlavy, Kurt from Velodyne, etc.) report the opposite, which is I guess why Elizabeth started the post! And I do enjoy theorizing about our brains...
I've read the John Dunlavy article on his website. Despite all the statements and claims he makes, there is one thing missing. He offers no proof or backup what-so-ever to any one of his statements. It is just a bunch of Clinton-speak. He claims to have fooled people who have golden ears, but does not name them, or offer them as a reference or endorsement, or even tell us how he knows that these people even have golden ears in the first place. He fools people by never switching cables, but telling them he has. This to him is proof that people cannot tell the difference between cables, however, never switching cables does not prove people cannot tell the difference between two different cables; you would have to actually switch cables and not tell them you switched to prove that.
The Dunlavy article comes across to me as only a marketing ploy to impress the reader and sell his gear.
Read the white papers Mike Vansever wrote on his website. www.vansevers.com -- Mike is a pro-audio electrical engineer, the kind of person who ususally claims there is no difference. Mike not only sais there is a difference, he explains why, including diagrams, and lots of explanations, and scientific stuff that is a little over my head. I think one white paper is titled something like: "Why do things that should not have a sound, actually do."
Sugarbie, there is nothing scientific about either one of these gentleman's papers. Dunlavy offers no proof and Vansever's proof is pure bunk. Please be very weary of people who profess their beliefs as gospel and start trusting your own ears. Your own auditory system system will shed light on what is truth to you and only you. Good luck
I do trust my ears. I was just thinking that Mike Vansevers by offering backup to his ideas is trying to use a proper scientific approach. By showing his data, he opens himself to examination by others. Mike was once a total unbeliever like many pro-audio engineers. He bought into that gospel that cables and power conditioning does not matter. A lot of unbelievers will refuse to sit down and listen and have their beliefs challenged. He did sit down and after hearing a difference was man enough to admit he was wrong. His research was done not to sell you and me, it was to prove to himself why there is a difference. By making a statement that Mike's work is bunk, do you offer proof?? It might be; but its over my head to tell. I've just tried some of his stuff and it all does exactly what he sais it will do, so I tend to believe him.
What has challenged my beliefs is this Stan Warren modified Pioneer DVD player I purchased. This things sounds great in my system for what I paid. Therefore, Stans mods are first rate. The challenge is that other than Stan's mods, the player itself is the biggest piece of Janpanese mass market junk on earth. It is all plastic, with a transport so slimsy it might break if I breath on it too hard. This thing should not sound good the non Stan parts are so cheap, but is does ??????
Sugarbrie, I hear a lot of tripe about transports (not your post) where a flimsy tray pops out and the assumption is the transport is flimsy. Or the solid looking tray of a Meridian comes out and there are sighs of satisfaction. This is just ignorance. The trays are not in contact with the disc as it spins except for a few like the Pioneer stable platter mechanisms. The most important issues are the quality of the motor's bearing, the speed of the servo mechanism and the overall mechanical/vibration qualities of the box.

The servo in the Pioneer is way better than CD players of a few years ago. In fact the servos in DVD players have to be fab because of the smaller pits that have to be read. The flimsiness of the Pioneer is not a bad thing. I look at these things as making sure you keep the ratio of mass to rigidity in reasonable bounds (throwing lots of mass into a transport that does improve rigidity is a mistake in my opinion). And you really want as little mass as possible so that the energy is quickly dissipated into the support under the player. Given its low mass then the Pioneer's rigidity may not be as bad as you think.

Having played around with my share of transports (including owning an unmodified Pioneer (for playing DVDs and DADs), I reckon the Pioneer's ability to read the pits of CDs is very good indeed, that its overal structural integrity is adequate if judicious damping (ie small amounts)is used, but certainly not ideal, but that its digital output section is way below what you would want, and you really need to start again as far as the analogue section is concerned. Therefore the bits that need modification are really fairly easy to do. I am sure Stan is very capable of dealing with these last two areas.
Sugarbie, I wish I had an explaination. If I did I would be in the power cord manufacturing business trying to make a power cord that would be acceptable to the majority of audiophiles and certainly affordable to the most meager. I have read Mr. Vanevers paper and it just does not sound correct or feasible to me. This is MHO and I mean no disrespect to anyone.
Sorry Liguy, did not intent to shoot at you. I am very skeptical of claims made by various people selling tweeks for big bucks. I have tried some of Mike's ideas and they worked for me. He also seems to choose materials for his cords and conditioners not because they are of the highest quality available, but because they sound the best to him and his staff. So he appears to be using his ears also.
Thanks also to Redkiwi. Your are right. Stan really does not do a "mod", he re-engineers the Pioneer. In his mind, it is a box with a transport and a Burr Brown 24/96 DAC. My understanding from talking with Stan is that he upgrades-rebuilds the analog section and removes entirely the output section and replaces it with a couple Blackgate caps as a buffer. He also put a better cap in the power supply path.