Recall of Speech is Impaired by Subsequent Masking Noise: A Replication of Rabbitt (1968) Experiment 2

The presence of masking noise can impair speech intelligibility and increase the cognitive resources necessary to understand speech. The first study to demonstrate the negative cognitive consequences of noisy speech—published by Rabbitt in 1968—found that participants had poorer recall for aurally presented digits early in a list when later digits were presented in noise relative to quiet. However, despite being cited nearly 500 times and providing the foundation for a wealth of subsequent research on the topic, the original study has never been directly replicated. Here we report a replication attempt of that study with a large online sample and tested the robustness of the results to a variety of scoring and analytical techniques. We replicated the key finding that listening to speech in noise impairs recall for items that came earlier in the list. The results were consistent when we used the original analytical technique (an ANOVA) and a more powerful analytical technique (generalized linear mixed effects models) that was not available when the original paper was published. These findings support the claim that effortful listening can interfere with encoding or rehearsal of previously presented information.

About Face: Seeing the Talker Improves Spoken Word Recognition but Increases Listening Effort

It is widely accepted that seeing a talker improves a listener’s ability to understand what a talker is saying in background noise (e.g., Erber, 1969; Sumby & Pollack, 1954). The literature is mixed, however, regarding the influence of the visual modality on the listening effort required to recognize speech (e.g., Fraser, Gagné, Alepins, & Dubois, 2010; Sommers & Phelps, 2016). Here, we present data showing that even when the visual modality robustly benefits recognition, processing audiovisual speech can still result in greater cognitive load than processing speech in the auditory modality alone. We show using a dual-task paradigm that the costs associated with audiovisual speech processing are more pronounced in easy listening conditions, in which speech can be recognized at high rates in the auditory modality alone—indeed, effort did not differ between audiovisual and audio-only conditions when the background noise was presented at a more difficult level. Further, we show that though these effects replicate with different stimuli and participants, they do not emerge when effort is assessed with a recall paradigm rather than a dual-task paradigm. Together, these results suggest that the widely cited audiovisual recognition benefit may come at a cost under more favorable listening conditions, and add to the growing body of research suggesting that various measures of effort may not be tapping into the same underlying construct (Strand et al., 2018).