Objectives: Understanding speech in acoustically degraded environments can place significant cognitive demands on school-age children who are developing the cognitive and linguistic skills needed to support this process. Previous studies suggest the speech understanding, word learning, and academic performance can be negatively impacted by background noise, but the effect of limited audibility on cognitive processes in children has not been directly studied. The aim of the present study was to evaluate the impact of limited audibility on speech understanding and working memory tasks in school-age children with normal hearing. Design: Seventeen children with normal hearing between 6 and 12 years of age participated in the present study. Repetition of nonword consonant-vowel-consonant stimuli was measured under conditions with combinations of two different signal to noise ratios (SNRs; 3 and 9 dB) and two low-pass filter settings (3.2 and 5.6 kHz). Verbal processing time was calculated based on the time from the onset of the stimulus to the onset of the child's response. Monosyllabic word repetition and recall were also measured in conditions with a full bandwidth and 5.6 kHz low-pass cutoff. Results: Nonword repetition scores decreased as audibility decreased. Verbal processing time increased as audibility decreased, consistent with predictions based on increased listening effort. Although monosyllabic word repetition did not vary between the full bandwidth and 5.6 kHz low-pass filter condition, recall was significantly poorer in the condition with limited bandwidth (low pass at 5.6 kHz). Age and expressive language scores predicted performance on word recall tasks, but did not predict nonword repetition accuracy or verbal processing time. Conclusions: Decreased audibility was associated with reduced accuracy for nonword repetition and increased verbal processing time in children with normal hearing. Deficits in free recall were observed even under conditions where word repetition was not affected. The negative effects of reduced audibility may occur even under conditions where speech repetition is not impacted. Limited stimulus audibility may result in greater cognitive effort for verbal rehearsal in working memory and may limit the availability of cognitive resources to allocate to working memory and other processes.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Speech and Hearing