Release from perceptual masking for children and adults: Benefit of a carrier phrase

Angela Yarnell Bonino, Lori J. Leibold, Emily Buss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVES: The purpose of this study was to test the hypothesis that a carrier phrase can improve word recognition performance for both children and adults by providing an auditory grouping cue. It was hypothesized that the carrier phrase would benefit listeners under conditions in which they have difficulty in perceptually separating the target word from the competing background. To test this hypothesis, word recognition was examined for maskers that were believed to vary in their ability to create perceptual masking. In addition to determining the conditions under which a carrier-phrase benefit is obtained, age-related differences in both susceptibility to masking and carrier-phrase benefit were examined. DESIGN: Two experiments were conducted to characterize developmental effects in the ability to benefit from a carrier phrase (i.e., "say the word") before the target word. Using an open-set task, word recognition performance was measured for three listener age groups: 5- to 7-year-old children, 8- to 10-year-old children, and adults (18-30 years). For all experiments, target words were presented in each of two carrier-phrase conditions: (1) carrier-present and (2) carrier-absent. Across experiments, word recognition performance was assessed in the presence of multi-talker babble (Experiment 1), two-talker speech (Experiment 2), or speech-shaped noise (Experiment 2). RESULTS: Children's word recognition performance was generally poorer than that of adults for all three masker conditions. Differences between the two age groups of children were seen for both speech-shaped noise and multi-talker babble, with 5- to 7-year-olds performing more poorly than 8- to 10-year-olds. However, 5- to 7-year-olds and 8- to 10-year-olds performed similarly for the two-talker masker. Despite developmental effects in susceptibility to masking, both groups of children and adults showed a carrier-phrase benefit in multi-talker babble (Experiment 1) and in the two-talker masker (Experiment 2). The magnitude of the carrier-phrase benefit was similar for a given masker type across age groups, but the carrier-phrase benefit was greater in the presence of the two-talker masker than in multi-talker babble. Specifically, the children's average carrier-phrase benefit was 7.1% for multi-talker and 16.8% for the two-talker masker condition. No carrier-phrase benefit was observed for any age group in the presence of speech-shaped noise. CONCLUSIONS: Effects of auditory masking on word recognition performance were greater for children than for adults. The time course of development for susceptibility to masking seems to be more prolonged for a two-talker speech masker than for multi-talker babble or speech-shaped noise. Unique to the present study, this work suggests that a carrier phrase can provide an effective auditory grouping cue for both children and adults under conditions expected to produce substantial perceptual masking.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-14
Number of pages12
JournalEar and hearing
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2013
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology
  • Speech and Hearing


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