Cortisol, Chromogranin A, and Pupillary Responses Evoked by Speech Recognition Tasks in Normally Hearing and Hard-of-Hearing Listeners: A Pilot Study

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Abstract

Pupillometry is one method that has been used to measure processing load expended during speech understanding. Notably, speech perception (in noise) tasks can evoke a pupil response. It is not known if there is concurrent activation of the sympathetic nervous system as indexed by salivary cortisol and chromogranin A (CgA) and whether such activation differs between normally hearing (NH) and hard-of-hearing (HH) adults. Ten NH and 10 adults with mild-to-moderate hearing loss (mean age 52 years) participated. Two speech perception tests were administered in random order: one in quiet targeting 100% correct performance and one in noise targeting 50% correct performance. Pupil responses and salivary samples for cortisol and CgA analyses were collected four times: before testing, after the two speech perception tests, and at the end of the session. Participants rated their perceived accuracy, effort, and motivation. Effects were examined using repeated-measures analyses of variance. Correlations between outcomes were calculated. HH listeners had smaller peak pupil dilations (PPDs) than NH listeners in the speech in noise condition only. No group or condition effects were observed for the cortisol data, but HH listeners tended to have higher cortisol levels across conditions. CgA levels were larger at the pretesting time than at the three other test times. Hearing impairment did not affect CgA. Self-rated motivation correlated most often with cortisol or PPD values. The three physiological indicators of cognitive load and stress (PPD, cortisol, and CgA) are not equally affected by speech testing or hearing impairment. Each of them seem to capture a different dimension of sympathetic nervous system activity.

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