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Ear Hear. 2012 Nov-Dec;33(6):731-44. doi: 10.1097/AUD.0b013e31825aecad.

Effects of reverberation on speech recognition in stationary and modulated noise by school-aged children and young adults.

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Boys Town National Research Hospital, Omaha, Nebraska, USA.



The purpose of this study was to determine how combinations of reverberation and noise, typical of environments in many elementary school classrooms, affect normal-hearing school-aged children's speech recognition in stationary and amplitude-modulated noise, and to compare their performance with that of normal-hearing young adults. In addition, the magnitude of release from masking in the modulated noise relative to that in stationary noise was compared across age groups in nonreverberant and reverberant listening conditions. Last, for all noise and reverberation combinations the degree of change in predicted performance at 70% correct was obtained for all age groups using a best-fit cubic polynomial.


Bamford-Kowal-Bench sentences and noise were convolved with binaural room impulse responses representing nonreverberant and reverberant environments to create test materials representative of both audiology clinics and school classroom environments. Speech recognition of 48 school-aged children and 12 adults was measured in speech-shaped and amplitude-modulated speech-shaped noise, in the following three virtual listening environments: nonreverberant, reverberant at 2 m, and reverberant at 6 m.


Speech recognition decreased in the reverberant conditions and with decreasing age. Release from masking in modulated noise relative to stationary noise decreased with age and was reduced by reverberation. In the nonreverberant condition, participants showed similar amounts of masking release across ages. The slopes of performance-intensity functions increased with age, with the exception of the nonreverberant modulated masker condition. The slopes were steeper in the stationary masker conditions, where they also decreased with reverberation and distance. In the presence of a modulated masker, the slopes did not differ between the two reverberant conditions.


The results of this study reveal systematic developmental changes in speech recognition in noisy and reverberant environments for elementary-school-aged children. The overall pattern suggests that younger children require better acoustic conditions to achieve sentence recognition equivalent to their older peers and adults. In addition, this is the first study to report a reduction of masking release in children as a result of reverberation. Results support the importance of minimizing noise and reverberation in classrooms, and highlight the need to incorporate noise and reverberation into audiological speech-recognition testing to improve predictions of performance in the real world.

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