COULD WIND TURBINE NOISE INTERFERE WITH GREATER PRAIRIE CHICKEN (Tympanuchus cupido pinnatus) COURTSHIP?
Edward J. Walsh – Edward.Walsh@boystown.org
JoAnn McGee – JoAnn.McGee@boystown.org
Boys Town National Research Hospital
555 North 30th St.
Omaha, NE 68131
Cara E. Whalen – email@example.com
Larkin A. Powell – firstname.lastname@example.org
Mary Bomberger Brown – email@example.com
School of Natural Resources
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Lincoln, NE 68583
Popular version of paper 1pABa2
Presented Monday afternoon, May 18, 2015
169th ASA Meeting, Pittsburgh
The Sand Hills ecoregion of central Nebraska is distinguished by rolling grass-stabilized sand dunes that rise up gently from the Ogallala aquifer. The aquifer itself is the source of widely scattered shallow lakes and marshes, some permanent and others that come and go with the seasons.
However, the sheer magnificence of this prairie isn’t its only distinguishing feature. Early on frigid, wind-swept, late-winter mornings, a low pitched hum, interrupted by the occasional dawn song of a Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) and other songbirds inhabiting the region, is virtually impossible to ignore.
CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE HUM
The hum is the chorus of the Greater Prairie Chicken (Tympanuchus cupido pinnatus), the communal expression of the courtship song of lekking male birds performing an elaborate testosterone-driven, foot-pounding ballet that will decide which males are selected to pass genes to the next generation; the word “lek” is the name of the so-called “booming” or courtship grounds where the birds perform their wooing displays.
While the birds cackle, whine, and whoop to defend territories and attract mates, it is the loud “booming” call, an integral component of the courtship display that attracts the interest of the bioacoustician – and the female prairie chicken.
The “boom” is an utterance that is carried long distances over the rolling grasslands and wetlands by a narrow band of frequencies ranging from roughly 270 to 325 cycles per second (Whalen et al., 2014). It lasts about 1.9 seconds and is repeated frequently throughout the morning courtship ritual.
Usually, the display begins with a brief but energetic bout of foot stamping or dancing, which is followed by an audible tail flap that gives way to the “boom” itself.
CLICK HERE TO OBSERVE A VIDEO CLIP OF THE COURTSHIP DISPLAY
For the more acoustically and technologically inclined, a graphic representation of the pressure wave of a “boom,” along with its spectrogram (a visual representation showing how the frequency content of the call changes during the course of the bout) and graphs depicting precisely where in the spectral domain the bulk of the acoustic power is carried is shown in Figure 1. The “boom” is clearly dominated by very low frequencies that are centered on approximately 300 Hz (cycles per second).
FIGURE 1: ACOUSTIC CHARACTERISTICS OF THE “BOOM”
Vocalization is, of course, only one side of the communication equation. Knowing what these stunning birds can hear is on the other.
We are interested in what Greater Prairie Chickens can hear because wind energy developments are encroaching onto their habitat, a condition that makes us question whether noise generated by wind turbines might have the capacity to mask vocal output and complicate communication between “booming” males and attending females.
Step number one in addressing this question is to determine what sounds the birds are capable of hearing – what their active auditory space looks like. The golden standard of hearing tests are behavioral in nature – you know, the ‘raise your hand or press this button if you can hear this sound’ kind of testing. However, this method isn’t very practical in a field setting; you can’t easily ask a Greater Prairie Chicken to raise its hand, or in this case its wing, when it hears the target sound.
To solve this problem, we turn to electrophysiology – to an evoked brain potential that is a measure of the electrical activity produced by the auditory parts of the inner ear and brain in response to sound. The specific test that we settled on is known as the ABR, the auditory brainstem response.
The ABR is a fairly remarkable response that captures much of the peripheral and central auditory pathway in action when short tone bursts are delivered to the animal. Within approximately 5 milliseconds following the presentation of a stimulus, the auditory periphery and brain produce a series of as many as five positive-going, highly reproducible electrical waves. These waves, or voltage peaks, more or less represent the sequential activation of primary auditory centers sweeping from the auditory nerve (the VIIIth cranial nerve), which transmits the responses of the sensory cells of the inner ear rostrally, through auditory brainstem centers toward the auditory cortex.
Greater Prairie Chickens included in this study were captured using nets that were placed on leks in the early morning hours. Captured birds were transported to a storage building that had been reconfigured into a remote auditory physiology lab where ABRs were recorded from birds positioned in a homemade, sound attenuating space – an acoustic wedge-lined wooden box.
FIGURE 2: ABR WAVEFORMS
The waveform of the Greater Prairie Chicken ABR closely resembles ABRs recorded from other birds – three prominent positive-going electrical peaks, and two smaller amplitude waves that follow, are easily identified, especially at higher levels of stimulation. In Figure 2, ABR waveforms recorded from an individual bird in response to 2.8 kHz tone pips are shown in the left panel and the group averages of all birds studied under the same stimulus conditions are shown in the right panel; the similarity of response waveforms from bird to bird, as indicated in the nearly imperceptible standard errors (shown in gray), testifies to the stability and utility of the tool. As stimulus level is lowered, ABR peaks decrease in amplitude and occur at later time points following stimulus onset.
Since our goal was to determine if Greater Prairie Chickens are sensitive to sounds produced by wind turbines, we generated an audiogram based on level-dependent changes in ABRs representing responses to tone pips spanning much of the bird’s audiometric range (Figure 3). An audiogram is a curve representing the relationship between response threshold (i.e., the lowest stimulus level producing a clear response) and stimulus frequency; in this case, thresholds were averaged across all animals included in the investigation.
FIGURE 3: AUDIOGRAM AND WIND TURBINE NOISE
As shown in Figure 3, the region of greatest hearing sensitivity is in the 1 to 4 kHz range and thresholds increase (sensitivity is lost) rapidly at higher stimulus frequencies and more gradually at lower frequencies. Others have shown that ABR threshold values are approximately 30 dB higher than thresholds determined behaviorally in the budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulates) (Brittan-Powell et al., 2002). So, to answer the question posed in this investigation, ABR threshold values were adjusted to estimate behavioral thresholds, and the resulting sensitivity curve was compared with the acoustic output of a wind turbine farm studied by van den Berg in 2006. The finding is clear; wind turbine noise falls well within the audible space of Greater Prairie Chickens occupying booming grounds in the acoustic footprint of active wind turbines.
While findings reported here indicate that Greater Prairie Chickens are sensitive to at least a portion of wind turbine acoustic output, the next question that we plan to address will be more difficult to answer: Does noise propagated from wind turbines interfere with vocal communication among Greater Prairie Chickens courting one another in the Nebraska Sand Hills? Efforts to answer that question are in the works.
Presentation #1pABa2 “Hearing sensitivity in the Greater Prairie Chicken” by Edward J. Walsh, Cara Whalen, Larkin Powell, Mary B. Brown, and JoAnn McGee will be take place on Monday, May 18, 2015, at 1:15 PM in the Rivers room at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh Downtown Hotel. The abstract can be found by searching for the presentation number here:
Brittan-Powell, E.F., Dooling, R.J. and Gleich, O. (2002). Auditory brainstem responses in adult budgerigars (Melopsittacus undulates). J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 112:999-1008.
van den Berg, G.P. (2006). The sound of high winds. The effect of atmospheric stability on wind turbine sound and microphone noise. Dissertation, Groningen University, Groningen, The Netherlands.
Whalen, C., Brown, M.B., McGee, J., Powell, L.A., Smith, J.A. and Walsh, E.J. (2014). The acoustic characteristics of greater prairie-chicken vocalizations. J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 136:2073.
Cameron Vongsawad – firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Berardi – email@example.com
Kent Gee – firstname.lastname@example.org
Tracianne Neilsen – email@example.com
Jeannette Lawler – firstname.lastname@example.org
Department of Physics & Astronomy
Brigham Young University
Provo, Utah 84602
Popular version of paper 2pED, “Development of an acoustics outreach program for the deaf.”
Presented Tuesday Afternoon, May 19, 2015, 1:45 pm, Commonwealth 2
169th ASA Meeting, Pittsburgh
The deaf and hard of hearing have less intuition with sound but are no strangers to the effects of pressure, vibrations, and other basic acoustical principles. Brigham Young University recently expanded their “Sounds to Astound” outreach program (sounds.byu.edu) and developed an acoustics demonstration program for visiting deaf students. The program was designed to help the students connect to a wide variety of acoustical principles through highly visual and kinesthetic demonstrations of sound as well as utilizing the students’ primary language of American Sign Language (ASL).
In science education, the “Hear and See” methodology (Beauchamp 2005) has been shown to be an effective teaching tool in assisting students to internalize new concepts. This sensory-focused approach can be applied to a deaf audience in a different way, the “See and Feel” method. In both, whenever possible students participate in demonstrations to experience the physical principle being taught.
In developing the “See and Feel” approach, a fundamental consideration was to select the principles of sound that were easily communicated using words that exist and are commonly used in ASL. For example, the word “pressure” is common, while the word “wave” is uncommon. Additionally, the sign for “wave” is closely associated with a water wave, which could lead to confusion about the nature of sound as a longitudinal wave. In the absence of an ASL sign for “resonance,” the nature of sound was taught by focusing on the signs for “vibration” and “pressure.” Additional vocabulary, i.e., mode, amplitude, node, antinode, and wave propagation, were presented using classifiers (non-lexical visualizations of gestures and hand shapes) and finger spelling the words. (Sheetz 2012)
Two bilingual teaching approaches were tried to make ASL the primary instruction language while also enabling communication among the demonstrators. In the first approach, the presenter used ASL and spoken English simultaneously. In the second approach, the presenter used only ASL and other interpreters provided the spoken English translation. The second approach proved to be more effective for both the audience and the presenters because it allowed the presenter to focus on describing the principles in the native framework of ASL, resulting in a better presentation flow for the deaf students.
In addition to the tabletop demonstrations (illustrated in the figures), the students were also able to feel sound in BYU’s reverberation chamber as a large subwoofer was operated at resonance frequencies of the room. The students were invited to walk around the room to find where the vibrations felt weakest. In doing so, the students mapped the nodal lines of the wave patterns in the room. In addition, the participants enjoyed standing in the corners of the room, where the sound pressure is eight times as strong and feeling the power of sound vibrations.
The experience of sharing acoustics with the deaf and hard of hearing has been remarkable. We have learned a few lessons about what does and doesn’t work well with regards to the ASL communication, visual instruction, and accessibility of the demos to all participants. Clear ASL communication is key to the success of the event. As described above, it is more effective if the main presenter communicates with ASL and someone else, who understands ASL and physics, provides a verbal interpretation for non-ASL volunteers. Having a fair ratio of interpreters to participants gives individualized voices for each person in attendance throughout the event. Another important consideration is that the ASL presenter needs to be visible to all students at all times. Extra thought is required to illuminate the presenter when the demonstrations require low lighting for maximum visual effect.
Because most of the demonstration traditionally rely on the perception of sound, care must be taken to provide visual instruction about the vibrations for hearing-impaired participants. (Lang 1973, 1981) This required the presenters to think creatively about how to modify demos. Dividing students into smaller groups (3-4 students) allow each student to interact with the demonstrations more closely. (Vongsawad 2014) This hands-on approach will improve the students’ ability to “See & Feel” the principles of sound being illustrated in the demonstrations and benefit more fully from the event.
While a bit hesitant at first, by the end of the event, students were participating more freely, asking questions and excited about what they had learned. They left with a better understanding of principles of acoustics and how sound affects their lives. The primary benefit, however, was providing opportunities for deaf children to see that resources exist at universities for them to succeed in higher education.
We would like to acknowledge support for this work from a National Science Foundation Grant (IIS-1124548) and from the Sorensen Impact Foundation. The visiting students also took part in a research project to develop a technology referred to as “Signglasses” – head-mounted artificial reality displays that could be used to help deaf and hard of hearing students better participate in planetarium shows. We also appreciate the support from the Acoustical Society of America in the development of BYU’s student chapter outreach program, “Sounds to Astound.” This work could not have been completed without the help of the Jean Massieu School of the Deaf in Salt Lake City, Utah.
This video demonstrates the use of ASL as the primary means of communication for students. Communication in their native language improved understanding.
Figure 1: Vibrations on a string were made to appear “frozen” in time by matching the frequency of a strobe light to the frequency of oscillation, which enhanced the ability of students to analyze the wave properties visually.
Figure 2: The Rubens Tube is another classic physics and acoustics demonstration to show resonance in a pipe. Similarly to the vibrations on a string, but this time being affected by sound waves directly. A speaker is attached to the end of a tube full of propane and the exiting propane that is lit on fire shows the variations in pressure due to the pressure wave caused by the sound in the tube. Here students are able to visualize a variety of sound properties.
Figure 3: Free spectrum analyzer and oscilloscope software was used to visualize the properties of sound broken up into its derivative parts. Students were encouraged to make sounds by clapping, snapping, using a tuning fork or their voice, and were able to see that sounds made in different ways have different features. It was significant for the hearing-impaired students to see that the noises they made looked similar to everyone else’s.
Figure 4: A loudspeaker driven at a frequency of 40 Hz was used to first make a candle flame flicker and then blow out as the loudness was increased to demonstrate the power of sound traveling as a pressure wave in the air.
Figure 5: A surface vibration loudspeaker placed on a table was another effective demonstration for the students to feel the sound. Students felt the sound as the surface vibration loudspeaker was placed on a table. Some students placed the surface vibration loudspeaker on their heads for an even more personal experience with sound.
Figure 6: Pond foggers use high frequency and high amplitude sound to turn water into fog, or cold water vapor. This demonstration gave students the opportunity to see and feel how powerful sound or vibrations can be. They could also put their fingers close to the fogger and feel the vibrations in the water.
Tags: education, deafness, language
Michael S. Beauchamp, “See me, hear me, touch me: Multisensory integration in lateral occipital-temporal cortex,” Cognitive Neuroscience: Current Opinion in Neurobiology 15, 145-153 (2005).
N. A. Scheetz, Deaf Education in the 21st Century: Topics and Trends (Pearson, Boston, 2012) pp. 152-62.
Cameron T. Vongsawad, Tracianne B. Neilsen, and Kent L. Gee, “Development of educational stations for Acoustical Society of America outreach,” Proc. Mtgs. Acoust. 20, 025003 (2014).
Harry G. Lang, “Teaching Physics to the Deaf,” Phys. Teach. 11, 527 (September 1973).
Harry, G. Lang, “Acoustics for deaf physics students,” Phys. Teach. 11, 248 (April 1981).
Soundscapes and human restoration in green urban areas
Irene van Kamp, (email@example.com)
Elise van Kempen,
National Institute for Public Health and the Environment
Pobox 1 Postvak 10
3720 BA BILTHOVEN
Popular version of paper in session 2aNSa, “Soundscapes and human restoration in green urban areas”
Presented Tuesday morning, May 19, 2015, 9:35 AM, Commonwealth 1
169th ASA Meeting, Pittsburgh
Worldwide there is a revival of interest in the positive effect of landscapes, green and blue space, open countryside on human well-being, quality of life, and health especially for urban dwellers. However, most studies do not account for the influence of the acoustic environment in these spaces both in a negative and positive way. One of the few studies in the field, which was done by Kang and Zhang (2010) identified relaxation, communication, dynamics and spatiality as the key factors in the evaluation of urban soundscapes. Remarkable is their finding that the general public and urban designers clearly value public space very different. The latter had a much stronger preference for natural sounds and green spaces than the lay-observers. Do we as professionals tend to exaggerate the value of green and what characteristics of urban green space are key to health, wellbeing and restoration? And what role does the acoustic quality and accompanying social quality play in this? In his famous studies on livable streets Donald Appleyard concluded that in heavy traffic streets the number of contacts with friends, acquaintances and the amount of social interaction in general was much lower. Also people in busy streets had a tendency to describe their environment as being much smaller than their counterparts in quiet streets did. In other words, the acoustic quality affects not only our wellbeing and behavior but also our sense of territory, social cohesion and social interactions. And this concerns all of us: citing Appleyard “nearly everyone in the world lives in a street”.
There is evidence that green or natural areas/wilderness/ or urban environments with natural elements as well as areas with a high sound quality can intrinsically provide restoration through spending time there. Also merely the knowledge that such quiet and green places are available seems to work as a buffer effect between stress and health (Van Kamp, Klaeboe, Brown, and Lercher, 2015 : in Jian Kang and Brigitte Schulte-Fortkamp (Eds) in press).
Recently a European study was performed into the health effect of access and use of green area in four European cities of varying size in Spain, the UK, Netherlands and Lithuania)
At the four study centers people were selected from neighborhoods with varying levels of socioeconomic status and green and blue space. By means of a structured interview information was gathered about availability, use and importance of green space in the immediate environment as well as the sound quality of favorite green areas used for physical activity, social encounters and relaxation. Data are also available about perceived mental/physical health and medication use. This allowed for analyzing the association between indicators of green, restoration and health, while accounting for perceived soundscapes in more detail. In general there are four mechanisms assumed that lead from green and tranquil space to health: via physical activity, via social interactions and relaxation and finally via reduced levels of traffic related air and noise pollution. This paper will explore the role of sound in the process which leads from access and use of green space to restoration and health. So far this aspect has been understudied. There is some indication that certain areas contribute to restoration more than others. Most studies address the restorative effects of natural recreational areas outside the urban environment. The question is whether natural areas within, and in the vicinity of, urban areas contribute to psycho-physiological and mental restoration after stress as well. Does restoration require the absence of urban noise?
Example of an acoustic environment – a New York City Park – with potential restorative outcomes (Photo: A.L. Brown)
Improving Headphone Spatialization: Fixing a problem you’ve learned to accept
Muhammad Haris Usmani – firstname.lastname@example.org
Ramón Cepeda Jr. – email@example.com
Thomas M. Sullivan – firstname.lastname@example.org
Bhiksha Raj – email@example.com
Carnegie Mellon University
5000 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
Popular version of paper 3aSPb5, “Improving headphone spatialization for stereo music”
Presented Wednesday morning, May 20, 2015, 10:15 AM, Brigade room
169th ASA Meeting, Pittsburgh
The days of grabbing a drink, brushing dust from your favorite record and playing it in the listening room of the house are long gone. Today, with the portability technology has enabled, almost everybody listens to music on their headphones. However, most commercially produced stereo music is mixed and mastered for playback on loudspeakers– this presents a problem for the growing number of headphone listeners. When a legacy stereo mix is played on headphones, all instruments or voices in that piece get placed in between the listener’s ears, inside of their head. This not only is unnatural and fatiguing for the listener, but is detrimental toward the original placement of the instruments in that musical piece. It disturbs the spatialization of the music and makes the sound image appear as three isolated lobes inside of the listener’s head , see Figure 1.
Hard-panned instruments separate into the left and right lobes, while instruments placed at center stage are heard in the center of the head. However, as hearing is a dynamic process that adapts and settles with the perceived sound, we have accepted headphones to sound this way .
In order to improve the spatialization of headphones, the listener’s ears must be deceived into thinking that they are listening to the music inside of a listening room. When playing music in a room, the sound travels through the air, reverberates inside the room, and interacts with the listener’s head and torso before reaching the ears . These interactions add the necessary psychoacoustic cues for perception of an externalized stereo soundstage presented in front of the listener. If this listening room is a typical music studio, the soundstage perceived is close to what the artist intended. Our work tries to place the headphone listener into the sound engineer’s seat inside a music studio to improve the spatialization of music. For the sake of compatibility across different headphones, we try to make minimal changes to the mastering equalization curve of the music.
Since there is a compromise between sound quality and the spatialization that can be presented, we developed three different systems that present different levels of such compromise. We label these as Type-I, Type-II, and Type-0. Type-I focuses on improving spatialization but at the cost of losing some sound quality, Type-II improves spatialization while taking into account that the sound quality is not degraded too much, and Type-0 focuses on refining conventional listening by making the sound image more homogeneous. Since the sound quality is key in music, we will skip over Type-I and focus on the other two systems.
Type-II, consists of a head related transfer function (HRTF) model , room reverberation (synthesized reverb ), and a spectral correction block. HRTFs embody all the complex spatialization cues that exist due to the relative positions of the listener and the source . In our case, a general HRTF model is used which is configured to place the listener at the “sweet spot” in the studio (right and left speakers placed at an angle of 30° from the listener’s head). The spectral correction attempts to keep the original mastering equalization curve as intact as possible.
Type-0, is made up of a side-content crossfeed block and a spectral correction block. Some headphone amps allow crossfeed between the left and right channels to model the fact that when listening to music through loudspeakers, each ear can hear the music from each speaker with a delay attached to the sound originating from the speaker that is furthest away. A shortcoming of conventional crossfeed is that the delay we can apply is limited (to avoid comb filtering) . Side-content crossfeed resolves this by only crossfeeding unique content between the two channels, allowing us to use larger delays. In this system, the side-content is extracted by using a stereo-to-3 upmixer, which is implemented as a novel extension to Nikunen et al.’s upmixer .
These systems were put to the test by conducting a subjective evaluation with 28 participants, all between 18 to 29 years of age. The participants were introduced to the metrics that were being measured in the beginning of the evaluation. Since the first part of the evaluation included specific spatial metrics which are a bit complicated to grasp for untrained listeners, we used a collection of descriptions, diagrams, and/or music excerpts that represented each metric to provide in-evaluation training for the listeners. The results of the first part of the evaluation suggest that this method worked well.
We were able to conclude from the results that Type-II externalized the sounds while performing at a level analogous to the original source in the other metrics and Type-0 was able to improve sound quality and comfort by compromising stereo width when compared to the original source, which is what we expected. Also, there was strong content-dependence observed in the results suggesting that a different setting of improving spatialization must be used with music that’s been produced differently. Overall, two of the three proposed systems in this work are preferred in equal or greater amounts to the legacy stereo mix.
Tags: music, acoustics, design, technology
 G-Sonique, “Monitor MSX5 – Headphone monitoring system,” G-Sonique, 2011. [Online]. Available: http://www.g-sonique.com/msx5headphonemonitoring.html.
 S. Mushendwa, “Enhancing Headphone Music Sound Quality,” Aalborg University – Institute of Media Technology and Engineering Science, 2009.
 C. J. C. H. K. K. Y. J. L. Yong Guk Kim, “An Integrated Approach of 3D Sound Rendering,” Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg, vol. II, no. PCM 2010, p. 682–693, 2010.
 D. Rocchesso, “3D with Headphones,” in DAFX: Digital Audio Effects, Chichester, John Wiley & Sons, 2002, pp. 154-157.
 P. E. Roos, “Samplicity’s Bricasti M7 Impulse Response Library v1.1,” Samplicity, [Online]. Available: http://www.samplicity.com/bricasti-m7-impulse-responses/.
 R. O. Duda, “3-D Audio for HCI,” Department of Electrical Engineering, San Jose State University, 2000. [Online]. Available: http://interface.cipic.ucdavis.edu/sound/tutorial/. [Accessed 15 4 2015].
 J. Meier, “A DIY Headphone Amplifier With Natural Crossfeed,” 2000. [Online]. Available: http://headwize.com/?page_id=654.
 J. Nikunen, T. Virtanen and M. Vilermo, “Multichannel Audio Upmixing by Time-Frequency Filtering Using Non-Negative Tensor Factorization,” Journal of the AES, vol. 60, no. 10, pp. 794-806, October 2012.
Understanding conversation in noisy everyday situations can be a challenge for listeners, especially individuals who are older and/or hard-of-hearing. Listening in some everyday situations (e.g., at dinner parties) can be so challenging that people might even decide that they would rather stay home than go out. Eventually, avoiding these situations can damage relationships with family and friends and reduce enjoyment of and participation in activities. What are the reasons for these difficulties and why are some people affected more than other people?
How easy or challenging it is to listen may vary from person to person because some people have better hearing abilities and/or cognitive abilities compared to other people. The hearing abilities of some people may be affected by the degree or type of their hearing loss. The cognitive abilities of some people, for example how well they can attend to and remember what they have heard, can also affect how easy it is for them to follow conversation in challenging listening situations. In addition to hearing abilities, cognitive abilities seem to be particularly relevant because in many everyday listening situations people need to listen to more than one person talking at the same time and/or they may need to listen while doing something else such as driving a car or crossing a busy street. The auditory demands that a listener faces in a situation increase as background noise becomes louder or as more interfering sounds combine with each other. The cognitive demands in a situation increase when listeners need to keep track of more people talking or to divide their attention as they try to do more tasks at the same time. Both auditory and cognitive demands could result in the situation becoming very challenging and these demands may even totally overload a listener.
One way to measure information overload is to see how much a person remembers after they have completed a set of tasks. For several decades, cognitive psychologists have been interested in ‘working memory’, or a person’s limited capacity to process information while doing tasks and to remember information after the tasks have been completed. Like a bank account, the more cognitive capacity is spent on processing information while doing tasks, the less cognitive capacity will remain available for remembering and using the information later. Importantly, some people have bigger working memories than other people and people who have a bigger working memory are usually better at understanding written and spoken language. Indeed, many researchers have measured working memory span for reading (i.e., a task involving the processing and recall of visual information) to minimize ‘contamination’ from the effects of hearing loss that might be a problem if they measured working memory span for listening. However, variations in difficulty due to hearing loss may be critically important in assessing how the demands of listening affect different individuals when they are trying to understand speech in noise. Some researchers have studied the effects of the acoustical properties of speech and interfering noises on listening, but less is known about how variations in the type of language materials (words, sentences, stories) might alter listening demands for people who have hearing loss. Therefore, to learn more about why some people cope better when listening to conversation in noise, we need to discover how both their auditory and their cognitive abilities come into play during everyday listening for a range of spoken materials.
We predicted that speech understanding would be more highly associated with working memory span for listening than with listening span for reading, especially when more realistic language materials are used to measure speech understanding. To test these predictions, we conducted listening and reading tests of working memory and we also measured memory abilities using five other measures (three auditory memory tests and two visual memory tests). Speech understanding was measured with six tests (two tests with words, one in quiet and one in noise; three tests with sentences, one in quiet and two in noise; one test with stories in quiet). The tests of speech understanding using words and sentences were selected from typical clinical tests and involved simple immediate repetition of the words or sentences that were heard. The test using stories has been used in laboratory research and involved comprehension questions after the end of the story. Three groups with 24 people in each group were tested: one group of younger adults (mean age = 23.5 years) with normal hearing and two groups of older adults with hearing loss (one group with mean age = 66.3 years and the other group with mean age 74.3 years).
There was a wide range in performance on the listening test of working memory, but performance on the reading test of working memory was more limited and poorer. Overall, there was a significant correlation between the results on the reading and listening working memory measures. However, when correlations were conducted for each of the three groups separately, the correlation reached significance only for the oldest listeners with hearing loss; this group had lower mean scores on both tests. Surprisingly, for all three groups, there were no significant correlations among the working memory and speech understanding measures. To further investigate this surprising result, a factor analysis was conducted. The results of the factor analysis suggest that there was one factor including age, hearing test results and performance on speech understanding measures when the speech-understanding task was simply to repeat words or sentences – these seem to reflect auditory abilities. In addition, separate factors were found for performance on the speech understanding measures involving the comprehension of discourse or the use of semantic context in sentences – these seem to reflect linguistic abilities. Importantly, the majority of the memory measures were distinct from both kinds of speech understanding measures, and also a more basic and less cognitively demanding memory measure involving only the repetition of sets of numbers. Taken together, these findings suggest that working memory measures reflect differences between people in cognitive abilities that are distinct from those tapped by the sorts of simple measures of hearing and speech understanding that have been used in the clinic. Above and beyond current clinical tests, by testing working memory, especially listening working memory, useful information could be gained about why some people cope better than others in everyday challenging listening situations.
Presentation #1pSC2 “Effect of age, hearing loss, and linguistic complexity on listening effort as mentioned by working memory span” by Margaret K. Pichora-Fuller and Sherri L. Smith will be take place on Monday, May 18, 2015, at 1:55 PM in Kings 4 at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh Downtown Hotel. The abstract can be found by searching for the presentation number here: