The Effects of Temporal Cues, Point-Light Displays, and Faces on Speech Identification and Listening Effort

Among the most robust findings in speech research is that the presence of a talking face improves the intelligibility of spoken language. Talking faces supplement the auditory signal by providing fine phonetic cues based on the placement of the articulators, as well as temporal cues to when speech is occurring. In this study, we varied the amount of information contained in the visual signal, ranging from temporal information alone to a natural talking face. Participants were presented with spoken sentences in energetic or informational masking in four different visual conditions: audio-only, a modulating circle providing temporal cues to salient features of the speech, a digitally rendered point-light display showing lip movement, and a natural talking face. We assessed both sentence identification accuracy and self-reported listening effort. Audiovisual benefit for intelligibility was observed for the natural face in both informational and energetic masking, but the digitally rendered point-light display only provided benefit in energetic masking. Intelligibility for speech accompanied by the modulating circle did not differ from the audio-only conditions in either masker type. Thus, the temporal cues used here were insufficient to improve speech intelligibility in noise, but some types of digital point-light displays may contain enough phonetic detail to produce modest improvements in speech identification in noise.

By Katrina Sewell, Violet A. Brown, Grace Farwell, Maya Rogers, Xingyi Zhang, & Julia F. Strand

Spread the Word: Enhancing Replicability of Speech Research Through Stimulus Sharing

Purpose: The ongoing replication crisis within and beyond psychology has revealed the numerous ways in which flexibility in the research process can affect study outcomes. In speech research, examples of these “researcher degrees of freedom” include the particular syllables, words, or sentences presented; the talkers who produce the stimuli and the instructions given to them; the population tested; whether and how stimuli are matched on amplitude; the type of masking noise used and its presentation level; and many others. In this research note, we argue that even seemingly minor methodological choices have the potential to affect study outcomes. To that end, we present a reanalysis of six existing data sets on spoken word identification in noise to assess how differences in talkers, stimulus processing, masking type, and listeners affect identification accuracy. Conclusions: Our reanalysis revealed relatively low correlations among word identification rates across studies. The data suggest that some of the seemingly innocuous methodological details that differ across studies—details that cannot possibly be reported in text given the idiosyncrasies inherent to speech—introduce unknown variability that may affect replicability of our findings. We therefore argue that publicly sharing stimuli is a crucial step toward improved replicability in speech research.

By Julia F. Strand & Violet A. Brown

Preregistration: Practical Considerations for Speech, Language, and Hearing Research

In the last decade, psychology and other sciences have implemented numerous reforms to improve the robustness of our research, many of which are based on increasing transparency throughout the research process. Among these reforms is the practice of preregistration, in which researchers create a time- stamped and uneditable document before data collection that describes the methods of the study, how the data will be analyzed, the sample size, and many other decisions. The current article highlights the benefits of preregistration with a focus on the specific issues that speech, language, and hearing researchers are likely to encounter, and additionally provides a tutorial for writing preregistrations. Conclusions: Although rates of preregistration have increased dramatically in recent years, the practice is still relatively uncommon in research on speech, language, and hearing. Low rates of adoption may be driven by a lack of under- standing of the benefits of preregistration (either generally or for our discipline in particular) or uncertainty about how to proceed if it becomes necessary to deviate from the preregistered plan. Alternatively, researchers may see the ben- efits of preregistration but not know where to start, and gathering this informa- tion from a wide variety of sources is arduous and time consuming. This tutorial addresses each of these potential roadblocks to preregistration and equips readers with tools to facilitate writing preregistrations for research on speech, language, and hearing.

By Violet A. Brown & Julia F. Strand

Speech and Non-Speech Measures of Audiovisual Integration are not Correlated

Many natural events generate both visual and auditory signals, and humans are remarkably adept at integrating information from those sources. However, individuals appear to differ markedly in their ability or propensity to combine what they hear with what they see. Individual differences in audiovisual integration have been established using a range of materials, including speech stimuli (seeing and hearing a talker) and simpler audiovisual stimuli (seeing flashes of light combined with tones). Although there are multiple tasks in the literature that are referred to as “measures of audiovisual integration,” the tasks themselves differ widely with respect to both the type of stimuli used (speech versus non-speech) and the nature of the tasks themselves (e.g., some tasks use conflicting auditory and visual stimuli whereas others use congruent stimuli). It is not clear whether these varied tasks are actually measuring the same underlying construct: audiovisual integration. This study tested the relationships among four commonly-used measures of audiovisual integration, two of which use speech stimuli (susceptibility to the McGurk effect and a measure of audiovisual benefit), and two of which use non-speech stimuli (the sound-induced flash illusion and audiovisual integration capacity). We replicated previous work showing large individual differences in each measure but found no significant correlations among any of the measures. These results suggest that tasks that are commonly referred to as measures of audiovisual integration may be tapping into different parts of the same process or different constructs entirely.

By Jonathan M. P. Wilbiks, Violet A. Brown, & Julia F. Strand

Revisiting the Target-Masker Linguistic Similarity Hypothesis

The linguistic similarity hypothesis states that it is more difficult to segregate target and masker speech when they are linguistically similar. For example, recognition of English target speech should be more impaired by the presence of Dutch masking speech than Mandarin masking speech because Dutch and English are more linguistically similar than Mandarin and English. Across four experiments, English target speech was consistently recognized more poorly when presented in English masking speech than in silence, speech-shaped noise, or an unintelligible masker (i.e., Dutch or Mandarin). However, we found no evidence for graded masking effects—Dutch did not impair performance more than Mandarin in any experiment, despite 650 participants being tested. This general pattern was consistent when using both a cross-modal paradigm (in which target speech was lipread and maskers were presented aurally; Experiments 1a and 1b) and an auditory-only paradigm (in which both the targets and maskers were presented aurally; Experiments 2a and 2b). These findings suggest that the linguistic similarity hypothesis should be refined to reflect the existing evidence: There is greater release from masking when the masker language differs from the target speech than when it is the same as the target speech. However, evidence that unintelligible maskers impair speech identification to a greater extent when they are more linguistically similar to the target language remains elusive.

By Violet A. Brown, Naseem H. Dillman-Hasso, ZhaoBin Li, Lucia Ray, Ellen Mamantov, Kristin J. Van Engen, & Julia F. Strand

Revisiting the Relationship Between Implicit Racial Bias and Audiovisual Benefit for Nonnative-Accented Speech

Speech intelligibility is improved when the listener can see the talker in addition to hearing their voice. Notably, though, previous work has suggested that this “audiovisual benefit” for nonnative (i.e., foreign-accented) speech is smaller than the benefit for native speech, an effect that may be partially accounted for by listeners’ implicit racial biases (Yi et al., 2013, The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 134[5], EL387–EL393.). In the present study, we sought to replicate these find- ings in a significantly larger sample of online participants. In a direct replication of Yi et al. (Experiment 1), we found that audiovisual benefit was indeed smaller for nonnative-accented relative to native-accented speech. However, our results did not support the conclusion that implicit racial biases, as measured with two types of implicit association tasks, were related to these differences in audiovisual benefit for native and nonnative speech. In a second experiment, we addressed a potential confound in the experimental design; to ensure that the difference in audiovisual benefit was caused by a difference in accent rather than a difference in overall intelligibility, we reversed the overall difficulty of each accent condition by presenting them at different signal-to-noise ratios. Even when native speech was presented at a much more difficult intelligibility level than nonnative speech, audiovisual benefit for nonnative speech remained poorer. In light of these findings, we discuss alternative explanations of reduced audiovisual benefit for nonnative speech, as well as methodological considerations for future work examining the intersection of social, cognitive, and linguistic processes.

By Drew J. McLaughlin, Violet A. Brown, Sita Carraturo, & Kristin J. Van Engen

Face Mask Type Affects Audiovisual Speech Intelligibility and Subjective Listening Effort in Young and Older Adults

Identifying speech requires that listeners make rapid use of fine-grained acoustic cues—a process that is facilitated by being able to see the talker’s face. Face masks present a challenge to this process because they can both alter acoustic information and conceal the talker’s mouth. Here, we investigated the degree to which different types of face masks and noise levels affect speech intelligibility and subjective listening effort for young (N = 180) and older (N = 180) adult listeners. We found that in quiet, mask type had little influence on speech intelligibility relative to speech produced without a mask for both young and older adults. However, with the addition of moderate (− 5 dB SNR) and high (− 9 dB SNR) levels of background noise, intelligibility dropped substantially for all types of face masks in both age groups. Across noise levels, transparent face masks and cloth face masks with filters impaired performance the most, and surgical face masks had the smallest influence on intelligibility. Participants also rated speech produced with a face mask as more effortful than unmasked speech, particularly in background noise. Although young and older adults were similarly affected by face masks and noise in terms of intelligibility and subjective listening effort, older adults showed poorer intelligibility overall and rated the speech as more effortful to process relative to young adults. This research will help individuals make more informed decisions about which types of masks to wear in various communicative settings.

By Violet A. Brown, Kristin J. Van Engen, & Jonathan E. Peelle

“Where Are the . . .Fixations?:” Grammatical Number Cues Guide Anticipatory Fixations to Upcoming Referents and Reduce Lexical Competition

Listeners make use of contextual cues during continuous speech processing that help overcome the limitations of the acoustic input. These semantic, grammatical, and pragmatic cues facilitate prediction of upcoming words and/or reduce the lexical search space by inhibiting activation of contextually inappropriate words that share phonological information with the target. The current study used the visual world paradigm to assess whether and how listeners use contextual cues about grammatical number during sentence processing by presenting target words in carrier phrases that were grammatically unconstraining (“Click on the . . .”) or grammatically constraining (“Where is/are the . . .”). Prior to the onset of the target word, listeners were already more likely to fixate on plural objects in the “Where are the . . .” context than the “Where is the . . .” context, indicating that they used the construction of the verb to anticipate the referent. Further, participants showed less interference from cohort competitors when the sentence frame made them contextually inappropriate, but still fixated on those words more than on phonologically unrelated distractor words. These results suggest that listeners rapidly and flexibly make use of contextual cues about grammatical number while maintaining sensitivity to the bottom-up input.

By Violet A. Brown, Neal P. Fox, & Julia F. Strand

An Introduction to Linear Mixed-Effects Modeling in R

This Tutorial serves as both an approachable theoretical introduction to mixed-effects modeling and a practical introduction to how to implement mixed-effects models in R. The intended audience is researchers who have some basic statistical knowledge, but little or no experience implementing mixed-effects models in R using their own data. In an attempt to increase the accessibility of this Tutorial, I deliberately avoid using mathematical terminology beyond what a student would learn in a standard graduate-level statistics course, but I reference articles and textbooks that provide more detail for interested readers. This Tutorial includes snippets of R code throughout; the data and R script used to build the models described in the text are available via OSF at, so readers can follow along if they wish. The goal of this practical introduction is to provide researchers with the tools they need to begin implementing mixed-effects models in their own research.

By Violet A. Brown

Understanding Speech Amid the Jingle and Jangle: Recommendations for Improving Measurement Practices in Listening Effort Research

The latent constructs psychologists study are typically not directly accessible, so researchers must design measurement instruments that are intended to provide insights about those constructs. Construct validation—assessing whether instruments measure what they intend to—is therefore critical for ensuring that the conclusions we draw actually reflect the intended phenomena. Insufficient construct validation can lead to the jingle fallacy—falsely assuming two instruments measure the same construct because the instruments share a name—and the jangle fallacy—falsely assuming two instruments measure different constructs because the instruments have different names. In this paper, we examine construct validation practices in research on listening effort and identify patterns that strongly suggest the presence of jingle and jangle in the literature. We argue that the lack of construct validation for listening effort measures has led to inconsistent findings and hindered our understanding of the construct. We also provide specific recommendations for improving construct validation of listening effort instruments, drawing on the framework laid out in a recent paper on improving measurement practices. Although this paper addresses listening effort, the issues raised and recommendations presented are widely applicable to tasks used in research on auditory perception and cognitive psychology.

By Julia F. Strand, Lucia Raya, Naseem H. Dillman-Hasso, Jed Villanueva, and Violet A. Brown