Age-related differences in informational masking (Jagadeesh & Uppunda, 2022)
Purpose: Speech recognition in noise is a ubiquitous problem in older listeners. Speech, the most commonly encountered noise in the real world, causes greater masking than noise maskers, a phenomenon called informational masking (IM). This is due to the lexical-semantic and/or acoustic-phonetic information present in speech maskers. In this study, we aimed to observe the age-related differences in speech recognition and the magnitudes of IM when the maskers varied in the type of linguistic information.
Method: In 30 young and 30 older individuals, we measured the signal-to-noise ratio required to obtain 50% correct identification under four-talker babble (lexical-semantic and acoustic-phonetic information), four-talker reverse babble (predominantly acoustic-phonetic information), and speech-shaped noise (SSN; energetic).
Results: In both groups, the four-talker babble caused the greatest masking effect (worst performances), whereas the SSN resulted in the least masking effect (best performances). The effectiveness of IM due to the lexical-semantic information was comparable between the two groups. However, the effectiveness of IM due to the acoustic-phonetic information was significantly higher in the older listeners, causing worse performances.
Conclusions: The greater effectiveness of IM due to the acoustic-phonetic information (worse performance) could be due to the minimal-to-mild high-frequency hearing loss and the consequent temporal processing deficits observed in the older listeners. However, it is possible that the older listeners can employ compensatory mechanisms (such as life experiences, contextual cues, employing higher listening efforts, among many possible other mechanisms) to overcome some of these deficits.
Supplemental Material S1. Individual thresholds at each octave frequencies for both ears, across the two groups, as well as information regarding the amplitudes of OAEs and the gender information for both groups.
Jagadeesh, A. B., & Uppunda, A. K. (2022). Effect of age on informational masking: Differential effects of phonetic and semantic information in the masker. American Journal of Audiology. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1044/2022_AJA-22-00029