To examine the impact of hearing impairment on a listener's ability to process simultaneous spoken messages.
Nine young listeners with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss and nine young listeners with normal hearing participated in this study. Two messages of equal level were presented separately to the two ears. The messages were systematically degraded by adding speech-shaped noise. Listeners performed a single task in which report of one message was required and a dual task in which report of both messages was required.
As the level of the added noise was increased, performance on both single and dual tasks declined. In the dual task, performance on the message reported second was poorer and more sensitive to the noise level than performance on the message reported first. When compared to listeners with normal hearing, listeners with hearing loss showed a larger deficit in recall of the second message than the first. This difference disappeared when performance of the hearing loss group was compared to that of the normal-hearing group at a poorer signal to noise ratio.
A listener's ability to process a secondary message is more sensitive to noise and hearing impairment than the ability to process a primary message. Tasks involving the processing of simultaneous messages may be useful for assessing hearing handicap and the benefits of rehabilitation in realistic listening scenarios.