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J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform. 2014 Dec;40(6):2106-11. doi: 10.1037/a0038220. Epub 2014 Oct 20.

Searching for a talking face: the effect of degrading the auditory signal.

Author information

Division of Psychology, Nottingham Trent University.
Medical Research Council (MRC) Institute of Hearing Research.
National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Nottingham Hearing Biomedical Research Unit.
Department of Psychology, University of Warwick.


Previous research (e.g., McGurk & MacDonald, 1976) suggests that faces and voices are bound automatically, but recent evidence suggests that attention is involved in a task of searching for a talking face (Alsius & Soto-Faraco, 2011). We hypothesized that the processing demands of the stimuli may affect the amount of attentional resources required, and investigated what effect degrading the auditory stimulus had on the time taken to locate a talking face. Twenty participants were presented with between 2 and 4 faces articulating different sentences, and had to decide which of these faces matched the sentence that they heard. The results showed that in the least demanding auditory condition (clear speech in quiet), search times did not significantly increase when the number of faces increased. However, when speech was presented in background noise or was processed to simulate the information provided by a cochlear implant, search times increased as the number of faces increased. Thus, it seems that the amount of attentional resources required vary according to the processing demands of the auditory stimuli, and when processing load is increased then faces need to be individually attended to in order to complete the task. Based on these results we would expect cochlear-implant users to find the task of locating a talking face more attentionally demanding than normal hearing listeners.

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