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Sensitivity to Melody, Rhythm, and Beat in Supporting Speech-in-Noise Perception in Young Adults

Yates, Kathryn M.1; Moore, David R.1,2; Amitay, Sygal1; Barry, Johanna G.1,3

doi: 10.1097/AUD.0000000000000621
Research Article: PDF Only

Objectives: Musicians appear to have an enhanced ability to perceive speech-in-noise, prompting suggestions that musical training could be used to help people who struggle to communicate in noisy environments. This study assessed the role of sensitivity to beat, rhythm, and melody in supporting speech-in-noise perception.

Design: This is an exploratory study based on correlation. The study included 24 normally hearing young adult participants with a wide range of musical training and experience. Formal and informal musical experience was measured with the training subscale of the Goldsmiths’ Musical Sophistication Index. Speech reception thresholds (SRT) were measured using the Matrix Sentence Test and three different speech-spectrum-shaped noise maskers: unmodulated and sinusoidally amplitude-modulated (modulation frequency, f m = 8 Hz; modulation depths: 60 and 80%). Primary predictors were measures of sensitivity to beat, rhythm, and melody. Secondary predictors were pure-tone frequency discrimination and auditory working memory (digit span). Any contributions from these two predictors were to be controlled for as appropriate.

Results: Participants with more musical experience and greater sensitivity to rhythm, beat, and melody had better SRTs. Sensitivity to beat was more strongly linked with SRT than sensitivity to either rhythm or melody. This relationship remained strong even after factoring out contributions from frequency discrimination and auditory working memory.

Conclusions: Sensitivity to beat predicted SRTs in unmodulated and modulated noise. We propose that this sensitivity maximizes benefit from fluctuations in signal-to-noise ratio through temporal orienting of attention to perceptually salient parts of the signal. Beat perception may be a good candidate for targeted training aimed at enhancing speech perception when listening in noise.

This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0 (CCBY), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

1Medical Research Council Institute of Hearing Research, School of Medicine, The University of Nottingham, University Park, Nottingham, United Kingdom;

2Communication Sciences Research Center, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; and

3Nottingham University Hospital Trust, Queen’s Medical Centre, Nottingham, United Kingdom.

Acknowledgments: The research was funded with Medical Research Council intramural funding grant U135097130. J.G.B. was funded through the Nottingham University Hospitals National Health Service Trust Flexibility and Sustainability Fund.

The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.

Address for correspondence: Johanna G. Barry, Nottingham University Hospital Trust, Queen’s Medical Centre, Nottingham NG7 2UH, United Kingdom. E-mail:

Received August 29, 2017; accepted April 30, 2018.

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