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J Acoust Soc Am. 2008 Nov;124(5):3064-75. doi: 10.1121/1.2980441.

The effects of hearing loss and age on the benefit of spatial separation between multiple talkers in reverberant rooms.

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Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences and the Hearing Research Center, Boston University, 635 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts 02215, USA.


This study investigated the interaction between hearing loss, reverberation, and age on the benefit of spatially separating multiple masking talkers from a target talker. Four listener groups were tested based on hearing status and age. On every trial listeners heard three different sentences spoken simultaneously by different female talkers. Listeners reported keywords from the target sentence, which was presented at a fixed and known location. Maskers were colocated with the target or presented from spatially separated and symmetrically placed loudspeakers, creating a situation with no simple "better-ear." Reverberation was also varied. The target-to-masker ratio at threshold for identification of the fixed-level target was measured by adapting the level of the maskers. On average, listeners with hearing loss showed less spatial release from masking than normal-hearing listeners. Age was a significant factor although small differences in hearing sensitivity across age groups may have contributed to this effect. Spatial release was reduced in the more reverberant room condition but in most cases a significant advantage remained. These results provide evidence for a large benefit of spatial separation in a multitalker situation that is likely due to perceptual factors. However, this benefit is significantly reduced by both hearing loss and reverberation.

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