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Is Listening in Noise Worth It? The Neurobiology of Speech Recognition in Challenging Listening Conditions

Eckert, Mark A.; Teubner-Rhodes, Susan; Vaden, Kenneth I. Jr

doi: 10.1097/AUD.0000000000000300
Physiological approaches: motivation, stres, fatigue, and listening

This review examines findings from functional neuroimaging studies of speech recognition in noise to provide a neural systems level explanation for the effort and fatigue that can be experienced during speech recognition in challenging listening conditions. Neuroimaging studies of speech recognition consistently demonstrate that challenging listening conditions engage neural systems that are used to monitor and optimize performance across a wide range of tasks. These systems appear to improve speech recognition in younger and older adults, but sustained engagement of these systems also appears to produce an experience of effort and fatigue that may affect the value of communication. When considered in the broader context of the neuroimaging and decision making literature, the speech recognition findings from functional imaging studies indicate that the expected value, or expected level of speech recognition given the difficulty of listening conditions, should be considered when measuring effort and fatigue. The authors propose that the behavioral economics or neuroeconomics of listening can provide a conceptual and experimental framework for understanding effort and fatigue that may have clinical significance.

Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina, USA.

The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.

Received October 31, 2015; accepted February 8, 2016.

Address for correspondence: Mark A. Eckert, Hearing Research Program, Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, Medical University of South Carolina, MSC 550, Charleston, SC 29425, USA. E-mail:

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