The pupil response is sensitive to divided attention during speech processing

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Abstract

Dividing attention over two streams of speech strongly decreases performance compared to focusing on only one. How divided attention affects cognitive processing load as indexed with pupillometry during speech recognition has so far not been investigated. In 12 young adults the pupil response was recorded while they focused on either one or both of two sentences that were presented dichotically and masked by fluctuating noise across a range of signal-to-noise ratios. In line with previous studies, the performance decreases when processing two target sentences instead of one. Additionally, dividing attention to process two sentences caused larger pupil dilation and later peak pupil latency than processing only one. This suggests an effect of attention on cognitive processing load (pupil dilation) during speech processing in noise.

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