Speech Recognition in Fluctuating and Continuous Maskers: Effects of Hearing Loss and Presentation Level

Van Summers, Michelle R. Molis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


Listeners with normal-hearing sensitivity recognize speech more accurately in the presence of fluctuating background sounds, such as a single competing voice, than in unmodulated noise at the same overall level. These performance differences are greatly reduced in listeners with hearing impairment, who generally receive little benefit from fluctuations in masker envelopes. If this lack of benefit is entirely due to elevated quiet thresholds and the resulting inaudibility of low-amplitude portions of signal + masker, then listeners with hearing impairment should derive increasing benefit from masker fluctuations as presentation levels increase. Listeners with normal-hearing (NH) sensitivity and listeners with hearing impairment (HI) were tested for sentence recognition at moderate and high presentation levels in competing speech-shaped noise, in competing speech by a single talker, and in competing time-reversed speech by the same talker. NH listeners showed more accurate recognition at moderate than at high presentation levels and better performance in fluctuating maskers than in unmodulated noise. For these listeners, modulated versus unmodulated performance differences tended to decrease at high presentation levels. Listeners with HI, as a group, showed performance that was more similar across maskers and presentation levels. Considered individually, only 2 out of 6 listeners with HI showed better overall performance and increasing benefit from masker fluctuations as presentation level increased. These results suggest that audibility alone does not completely account for the group differences in performance with fluctuating maskers; suprathreshold processing differences between groups also appear to play an important role. Competing speech frequently provided more effective masking than time-reversed speech containing temporal fluctuations of equal magnitude. This finding is consistent with "informational" masking resulting from competitive processing of words and phrases within the speech masker that would not occur for time-reversed sentences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)245-256
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2004


  • Fluctuating masker
  • Hearing impaired
  • Informational masking
  • Reversed speech masker
  • Speech recognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing


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