Contribution of Stimulus Variability to Word Recognition in Noise Versus Two-Talker Speech for School-Age Children and Adults

Emily Buss, Lauren Calandruccio, Jacob Oleson, Lori J. Leibold

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Background: Speech-in-speech recognition scores tend to be more variable than the speech-in-noise recognition scores, both within and across listeners. This variability could be due to listener factors, such as individual differences in audibility or susceptibility to informational masking. It could also be due to stimulus variability, with some speech-in-speech samples posing more of a challenge than others. The purpose of this experiment was to test two hypotheses: (1) that stimulus variability affects adults' word recognition in a two-talker speech masker and (2) that stimulus variability plays a smaller role in children's performance due to relatively greater contributions of listener factors. Methods: Listeners were children (5 to 10 years) and adults (18 to 41 years) with normal hearing. Target speech was a corpus of 30 disyllabic words, each associated with an unambiguous illustration. Maskers were 30 samples of either two-talker speech or speech-shaped noise. The task was a four-alternative forced choice. Speech reception thresholds were measured adaptively, and those results were used to determine the signal-to-noise ratio associated with ≈65% correct for each listener and masker. Two 30-word blocks of fixed-level testing were then completed in each of the two conditions: (1) with the target-masker pairs randomly assigned prior to each block and (2) with frozen target-masker pairs. Results: Speech reception thresholds were lower for adults than for children, particularly for the two-talker speech masker. Listener responses in fixed-level testing were evaluated for consistency across listeners. Target sample was the best predictor of performance in the speech-shaped noise masker for both the random and frozen conditions. In contrast, both the target and masker samples affected performance in the two-talker masker. Results were qualitatively similar for children and adults, and the pattern of performance across stimulus samples was consistent, with differences in masked target audibility in both age groups. Conclusions: Although word recognition in speech-shaped noise differed consistently across target words, recognition in a two-talker speech masker depended on both the target and masker samples. These stimulus effects are broadly consistent with a simple model of masked target audibility. Although variability in speech-in-speech recognition is often thought to reflect differences in informational masking, the present results suggest that variability in energetic masking across stimuli can play an important role in performance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)313-322
Number of pages10
JournalEar and hearing
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 31 2021


  • Auditory development
  • Informational masking
  • Speech assessment
  • Speech recognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology
  • Speech and Hearing


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