Children's auditory perception and cognitive processing skills in adverse listening situations
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Children are reported to have substantial difficulty in complex everyday environments (e.g., classroom). In typical classrooms, children are asked to perform learning activities that often require attention to more than one concurrent task in the presence of task-irrelevant background noise. Demands on auditory and cognitive processes affect how well children understand spoken language in the classroom. This three-manuscript dissertation sought to examine the effects of auditory distraction on working memory and auditory comprehension performance in school-age children with normal hearing. Experiment I examined whether children with normal hearing demonstrate poorer working memory performance in four-talker babble at 0 and -5 dB signal-to-noise ratios (SNR). Experiment II evaluated how the relationship between children’s working memory and auditory comprehension performance changes in classroom noise at -5 dB SNR compared to quiet. Experiment III expanded on previous findings by systematically increasing difficulty of cognitive tasks and level of four-talker babble. Together these studies demonstrate that when auditory perception is difficult, higher-level cognitive processing is compromised. The results are consistent with the view that listening in adverse situations draws on a child’s limited pool of cognitive resources that would otherwise be available for speech comprehension and for encoding information in memory. The results also confirm the need for complex listening tasks and situations to adequately estimate children’s speech-in-noise difficulties.
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