Development of Open-Set Word Recognition in Children: Speech-Shaped Noise and Two-Talker Speech Maskers


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Abstract

Objective:The goal of this study was to establish the developmental trajectories for children’s open-set recognition of monosyllabic words in each of two maskers: two-talker speech and speech-shaped noise.Design:Listeners were 56 children (5 to 16 years) and 16 adults, all with normal hearing. Thresholds for 50% correct recognition of monosyllabic words were measured in a two-talker speech or a speech-shaped noise masker in the sound field using an open-set task. Target words were presented at a fixed level of 65 dB SPL throughout testing, while the masker level was adapted. A repeated-measures design was used to compare the performance of three age groups of children (5 to 7 years, 8 to 12 years, and 13 to 16 years) and a group of adults. The pattern of age-related changes during childhood was also compared between the two masker conditions.Results:Listeners in all four age groups performed more poorly in the two-talker speech than the speech-shaped noise masker, but the developmental trajectories differed for the two masker conditions. For the speech-shaped noise masker, children’s performance improved with age until about 10 years of age, with little systematic child–adult differences thereafter. In contrast, for the two-talker speech masker, children’s thresholds gradually improved between 5 and 13 years of age, followed by an abrupt improvement in performance to adult-like levels. Children’s thresholds in the two masker conditions were uncorrelated.Conclusions:Younger children require a more advantageous signal-to-noise ratio than older children and adults to achieve 50% correct word recognition in both masker conditions. However, children’s ability to recognize words appears to take longer to mature and follows a different developmental trajectory for the two-talker speech masker than the speech-shaped noise masker. These findings highlight the importance of considering both age and masker type when evaluating children’s masked speech perception abilities.

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