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Original Research ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02166

Noise, age and gender effects on speech intelligibility and sentence comprehension for 11- to 13-year-old children in real classrooms

  • 1Department of Engineering, University of Ferrara, Italy
  • 2Department of General Psychology, University of Padova, Italy
  • 3Department of Developmental Psychology and Socialization, University of Padua, Italy
  • 4Department of Psychological Sciences, Health and Territory, G. d'Annunzio University of Chieti and Pescara, Italy

The present study aimed to investigate the effects of type of noise, age and gender on children’s speech intelligibility and sentence comprehension.
The experiment was conducted with 171 children between 11 and 13 years old in ecologically-valid conditions (collective presentation in real, reverberating classrooms). Two standardized tests were used to assess speech intelligibility (SI) and sentence comprehension (SC). The two tasks were presented in three listening conditions: quiet; traffic noise; and classroom noise (non-intelligible noise with the same spectrum and temporal envelope of speech, plus typical classroom sound events). Both task performance accuracy and listening effort were considered in the analyses, the latter tracked by recording the response time using a single-task paradigm. Classroom noise was found to have the worst effect on both tasks (worsening task performance accuracy and slowing response times), due to its spectro-temporal characteristics. A developmental effect was seen in the range of ages (11-13 years), which depended on the task and listening condition. Gender effects were also seen in both tasks, girls being more accurate and quicker to respond in most listening conditions. A significant interaction emerged between type of noise, age and task, indicating that classroom noise had a greater impact on response times for SI than for SC.
Overall, these results indicate that, for 11- to 13-year-old children, performance in SI and SC tasks is influenced by aspects relating to both the sound environment and the listener (age, gender). The presence of significant interactions between these factors and the type of task suggests that the acoustic conditions that guarantee optimal SI might not be equally adequate for SC. Our findings have implications for the development of standard requirements for the acoustic design of classrooms.

Keywords: classroom acoustics, intelligibility, sentence comprehension, listening effort, Noise, gender, response times, Children

Received: 26 Apr 2019; Accepted: 09 Sep 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 Prodi, Visentin, Borella, Mammarella and Di Domenico. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Prof. Nicola Prodi, Department of Engineering, University of Ferrara, Ferrara, 44122, Emilia-Romagna, Italy, nicola.prodi@unife.it