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Children’s comprehension in background noise (Carlie et al., 2024)

online resource
posted on 2024-02-16, 18:08 authored by Johanna Carlie, Birgitta Sahlén, Roger Johansson, Ketty Andersson, Susanna Whitling, Karl Jonas Brännström

Purpose: This study focuses on 7- to 9-year-old children attending primary school in Swedish areas of low socioeconomic status, where most children’s school language is their second language. The aim was to better understand what factors influence these children’s narrative listening comprehension both in an ideal listening condition (in quiet) and for the primary school classroom, a typical listening condition (with multitalker babble noise).

Method: A total of 86 typically developing 7- to 9-year-olds performed a narrative listening comprehension test (Lyssna, Förstå och Minnas [LFM]; English translation: Listen, Comprehend, and Remember) in two listening conditions: quiet and multitalker babble noise. They also performed the crosslinguistic nonword repetition test and a digit span backwards (DSB) test. A predictive statistical model including these factors, the children’s degree of school language exposure, parental education level, and age was derived.

Results: Listening condition had the strongest predictive value for LFM performance, followed by school language exposure and nonword repetition accuracy. Parental education level was also a significant predictor. There was a significant three-way interaction effect between listening condition, age, and DSB performance.

Conclusions: Multitalker babble noise has a negative effect on children’s narrative listening comprehension. The effect of multitalker babble noise could be explained by age differences in the ability to allocate working memory capacity during the narrative listening comprehension task, suggesting that younger children may be more vulnerable for missing information when listening in background noise than their older peers.

Supplemental Material S1. Pearson correlations between the continuous predictor variables: age (in months), performance on the digit span backwards task (DSBW) and the crosslinguistic nonword repetition test (CL-NWRT), and the children’s degree of Swedish exposure.

Supplemental Material S2. Description of how the questions the caregivers were asked were used to create the Swedish exposure index.

Carlie, J., Sahlén, B., Johansson, R., Andersson, K., Whitling, S., & Brännström, K. J. (2024). The effect of background noise, bilingualism, socioeconomic status, and cognitive functioning on primary school children’s narrative listening comprehension. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 67(3), 960–973.


This study was financially supported by the Swedish Research Council Grant 2018-04160 (awarded to K. J. Brännström).