Toronto Metropolitan University

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Reduced Semantic Context and Signal-to-Noise Ratio Increase Listening Effort As Measured Using Functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy

journal contribution
posted on 2024-03-21, 18:41 authored by Joseph Rovetti, Huiwen Goy, Michael Zara, Frank RussoFrank Russo
Objectives: Understanding speech-in-noise can be highly effortful. Decreasing the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) of speech increases listening effort, but it is relatively unclear if decreasing the level of semantic context does as well. The current study used functional near-infrared spectroscopy to evaluate two primary hypotheses: (1) listening effort (operationalized as oxygenation of the left lateral PFC) increases as the SNR decreases and (2) listening effort increases as context decreases.
Design: Twenty-eight younger adults with normal hearing completed the Revised Speech Perception in Noise Test, in which they listened to sentences and reported the final word. These sentences either had an easy SNR (+4 dB) or a hard SNR (−2 dB), and were either low in semantic context (e.g., “Tom could have thought about the sport”) or high in context (e.g., “She had to vacuum the rug”). PFC oxygenation was measured throughout using functional near-infrared spectroscopy.
Results: Accuracy on the Revised Speech Perception in Noise Test was worse when the SNR was hard than when it was easy, and worse for sentences low in semantic context than high in context. Similarly, oxygenation across the entire PFC (including the left lateral PFC) was greater when the SNR was hard, and left lateral PFC oxygenation was greater when context was low.
Conclusions: These results suggest that activation of the left lateral PFC (interpreted here as reflecting listening effort) increases to compensate for acoustic and linguistic challenges. This may reflect the increased engagement of domain-general and domain-specific processes subserved by the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (e.g., cognitive control) and inferior frontal gyrus (e.g., predicting the sensory consequences of articulatory gestures), respectively.




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