Cognitive processing during sleep: the role of signal significance and participant characteristics

Ball, Michelle (2007) Cognitive processing during sleep: the role of signal significance and participant characteristics. PhD thesis, Victoria University.


Fire fatality statistics show that being asleep in a residential home is a serious risk factor for death in a fire. These statistics also show that this risk is increased according to individual factors such as being very young, or being under the influence of alcohol. Research has shown that sleeping children do not reliably respond to a smoke alarm signal (Bruck, 2001). No previous research has investigated the effect of alcohol on the ability to respond from sleep to a smoke alarm. The current project consists of a series of five studies that investigate the response from sleep of vulnerable populations such as children and young adults under the influence of alcohol to a smoke alarm signal. The purpose of the five studies included: 1. The development and testing of a new signal to be compared to existing manufactured beeping signals in the further studies; 2. Investigating the effect of alcohol on the ability of young adults to respond from deep sleep to three different auditory signals (highpitched Australian Standard Alarm (ASA), a female voice alarm, and a mid-pitched signal in the temporal-three (T-3) pattern) under three alcohol conditions (sober, .05 blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and .08 BAC); 3. Testing several alarms with sleeping children including a message recorded by their mother using the child’s name and stating there was a fire, a female voice alarm, and the T-3. This was then compared to existing data for the ASA from Bruck & Bliss (2000); 4. Investigating the response of sleeping young adults to a male voice alarm and a high-pitched T-3 in two alcohol conditions (sober and .08 BAC); 5. Ivestigating the response of sleeping young adults to naturalistic fire cues including a naturalistic house fire sound, a flickering light, and a combination of the two in two alcohol conditions (sober and .08 BAC). Major findings from the series of studies include that alcohol significantly affected the ability of sleeping young adults to respond to a smoke alarm, even at .05 BAC, and that this effect was worse for males than for females. This effect persisted across all studies were alcohol was used, regardless of signal. The response of sleeping children to the ASA (57%) was significantly poorer than to a voice alarm recorded by their mother (100%), a female voice alarm (94%), and the T-3 (96%). The male voice alarm and high-pitch T-3 were both significantly better than the ASA in waking young adults, but methodological concerns may have affected results for the high-pitched T-3. Finally, light was found to be a poor stimulus in waking people from sleep, and there was no advantage to combining naturalistic stimuli in producing a response. It was concluded that alcohol significantly affects a person’s ability to respond to their smoke alarm signal. Pitch and tonal complexity emerged as potentially important parameters that need to be further explored in relation to smoke alarm signal design.

Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
Subjects Historical > RFCD Classification > 380000 Behavioural and Cognitive Sciences
Historical > Faculty/School/Research Centre/Department > School of Social Sciences and Psychology
Keywords fire alarms, sleep, cognitive processing, smoke alarm signal design
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