Effects of noise on speech recognition: Challenges for communication by service members

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Speech communication often takes place in noisy environments; this is an urgent issue for military personnel who must communicate in high-noise environments. The effects of noise on speech recognition vary significantly according to the sources of noise, the number and types of talkers, and the listener's hearing ability. In this review, speech communication is first described as it relates to current standards of hearing assessment for military and civilian populations. The next section categorizes types of noise (also called maskers) according to their temporal characteristics (steady or fluctuating) and perceptive effects (energetic or informational masking). Next, speech recognition difficulties experienced by listeners with hearing loss and by older listeners are summarized, and questions on the possible causes of speech-in-noise difficulty are discussed, including recent suggestions of “hidden hearing loss”. The final section describes tests used by military and civilian researchers, audiologists, and hearing technicians to assess performance of an individual in recognizing speech in background noise, as well as metrics that predict performance based on a listener and background noise profile. This article provides readers with an overview of the challenges associated with speech communication in noisy backgrounds, as well as its assessment and potential impact on functional performance, and provides guidance for important new research directions relevant not only to military personnel, but also to employees who work in high noise environments.

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