The Contribution of Auditory and Cognitive Factors to Intelligibility of Words and Sentences in Noise

Antje Heinrich, Sarah Knight

Understanding the causes for speech-in-noise (SiN) perception difficulties is complex, and is made even more difficult by the fact that listening situations can vary widely in target and background sounds. While there is general agreement that both auditory and cognitive factors are important, their exact relationship to SiN perception across various listening situations remains unclear. This study manipulated the characteristics of the listening situation in two ways: first, target stimuli were either isolated words, or words heard in the context of low- (LP) and high-predictability (HP) sentences; second, the background sound, speech-modulated noise, was presented at two signal-to-noise ratios. Speech intelligibility was measured for 30 older listeners (aged 62–84) with age-normal hearing and related to individual differences in cognition (working memory, inhibition and linguistic skills) and hearing (PTA0.25-8kHz and temporal processing). The results showed that while the effect of hearing thresholds on intelligibility was rather uniform, the influence of cognitive abilities was more specific to a certain listening situation. By revealing a complex picture of relationships between intelligibility and cognition, these results may help us understand some of the inconsistencies in the literature as regards cognitive contributions to speech perception.