Certain sounds, for example, the squeal of chalk on a blackboard, are typically perceived as highly unpleasant. This study addressed the question of what aspects of the auditory representation of such sounds are associated with judgments of unpleasantness. Participants rated the perceived unpleasantness of a large number of sounds that included “griding” and other unpleasant sounds. A multivariate partial least-squares (PLS) model was then built to relate the ratings of unpleasantness with an auditory representation derived from a model of processing in the auditory pathway. The “existence region” of unpleasantness in the auditory space of frequency-temporal modulation was determined after the PLS model had been validated by predicting the unpleasantness of novel sounds from the auditory representation. It was observed that the existence region corresponded to spectral frequencies between 2500 and 5500 Hz, and temporal modulations in the range 1–16 Hz.

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