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Hear Res. 2014 Apr;310:76-86. doi: 10.1016/j.heares.2014.01.009. Epub 2014 Feb 13.

Spatial and temporal modifications of multitalker speech can improve speech perception in older adults.

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  • 1National Institute for Health Research, Nottingham Hearing Biomedical Research Unit, Nottingham, UK; Otology and Hearing Group, Division of Clinical Neuroscience, School of Medicine, University of Nottingham, Nottingham NG7 2UH, UK; Veterans Affairs Northern California Health Care System, Martinez, CA, USA. Electronic address:
  • 2Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, IL, USA.


Speech perception in multitalker environments often requires listeners to divide attention among several concurrent talkers before focusing on one talker with pertinent information. Such attentionally demanding tasks are particularly difficult for older adults due both to age-related hearing loss (presbacusis) and general declines in attentional processing and associated cognitive abilities. This study investigated two signal-processing techniques that have been suggested as a means of improving speech perception accuracy of older adults: time stretching and spatial separation of target talkers. Stimuli in each experiment comprised 2-4 fixed-form utterances in which listeners were asked to consecutively 1) detect concurrently spoken keywords in the beginning of the utterance (divided attention); and, 2) identify additional keywords from only one talker at the end of the utterance (selective attention). In Experiment 1, the overall tempo of each utterance was unaltered or slowed down by 25%; in Experiment 2 the concurrent utterances were spatially coincident or separated across a 180-degree hemifield. Both manipulations improved performance for elderly adults with age-appropriate hearing on both tasks. Increasing the divided attention load by attending to more concurrent keywords had a marked negative effect on performance of the selective attention task only when the target talker was identified by a keyword, but not by spatial location. These findings suggest that the temporal and spatial modifications of multitalker speech improved perception of multitalker speech primarily by reducing competition among cognitive resources required to perform attentionally demanding tasks.

Published by Elsevier B.V.


Auditory attention; Coordinate response measure; Dual-task; Multitalker processing; Speech perception; Stream segregation

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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