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Ear Hear. 2012 Jan-Feb;33(1):124-33. doi: 10.1097/AUD.0b013e31822b5bee.

Effect of priming on energetic and informational masking in a same-different task.

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Department of Communication Disorders, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts, USA.



The primary goal of this study was to investigate how speech perception is altered by the provision of a preview or "prime" of a sample of speech just before it is presented in masking. A same-different test paradigm was developed which enabled the effect of priming to be measured with energetic maskers in addition to those that most likely produced both energetic and informational masking. Using this paradigm, the benefit of priming in overcoming energetic and informational masking was compared.


Twenty-four normal-hearing subjects listened to nonsense sentences presented in a background of competing speech (two-talker babble) or one of two types of speech-shaped noise. Both target and masker were presented via loudspeaker directly in front of the listeners. In the baseline condition, the listeners were then shown a sentence on a computer screen that either matched the auditory target sentence exactly or contained a replacement for one of the three target key words. Their task was to judge whether the printed sentence matched the auditory target and respond via computer keyboard. In the first experimental condition, the printed sentence preceded rather than followed the auditory presentation (the priming condition). In the second experimental condition, the perception of spatial separation was created between target and masker by presenting the masker from two loudspeakers (front and 60° to the right) and imposing a 4-msec delay in the masker coming from the front loudspeaker. This resulted in the target being heard from the front while, because of the precedence effect, the masker was heard well to the right (the spatial condition). In a third experimental condition, spatial separation and priming were combined. A total of five signal-to-noise ratios were tested for each masker.


The competing speech masker produced more masking than noise, consistent with previous findings. For the competing speech masker, the signal-to-noise ratio for 80% correct performance was approximately 6.7 dB lower when the listeners read the sentences first (the priming condition) than in the baseline condition. This priming effect was similar to the improvement obtained when the target and masker were separated spatially. Significant priming effects were also observed with speech-shaped noise maskers, and when there was perceived spatial separation between target and masker, conditions in which informational masking was believed to have been minimal. There seemed to be an additive effect of spatial separation and priming in the two-talker babble condition.


(1) Priming was effective in improving speech perception in all conditions, including those consisting of primarily energetic masking. (2) It is not clear how much benefit from priming could be attributed to release from informational masking. (3) Performance on the same-different task was linearly related to performance on an open-set speech recognition task using the same target and masker.

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