The Impact of Formal Musical Training on Speech Comprehension in Heavily Distracting Environments

Alexandra Bruder – alexandra.l.bruder@vanderbilt.edu

Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Department of Anesthesiology, 1211 21st Avenue South, Medical Arts Building, Suite 422, Nashville, TN, 37212, United States

Joseph Schlesinger – joseph.j.schlesinger@vumc.org
Twitter: @DrJazz615

Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Nashville, TN 37205
United States

Clayton D Rothwell – crothwell@infoscitex.com<
Infoscitex Corporation, a DCS Company
Dayton, OH, 45431
United States

Popular version of 1pMU4-The Impact of Formal Musical Training on Speech Intelligibility Performance – Implications for Music Pedagogy in High-Consequence Industries, presented at the 183rd ASA Meeting.

Imagine being a waiter… everyone in the restaurant is speaking, music is playing, and co-workers are trying to get your attention, causing you to miss the customer’s order. Communication is necessary but can be hindered due to distractions in many environments, especially in high-risk environments, such as aviation, nuclear power, and healthcare, where miscommunication is a frequent contributing factor to accidents and loss of life. In domains where multitasking is necessary and timely and accurate responses must be ensured, does formal music training help performance?

We used an audio-visual task to test if formal music training can be useful in multitasking environments. Twenty-five students from Vanderbilt University participated in the study and were separated into groups based on their level of formal music training: no formal music training, 1-3 years, 3-5 years, and 5+ years of formal music training. Participants were given three tasks to attend to, a speech comprehension task (modeling distracted communication), a complex visual distraction task (modeling a clinical patient monitor), and an easy visual distraction task (modeling an alarm monitoring task). These tasks were completed in the presence of a combination of alarms and/or background noise and with/without background music.

Image courtesy of Bruder et al. original paper. (Psychology of Music).

Our research focused on results regarding the audio comprehension task and showed that the group with the most formal music training did not show changes in response rate with or without background music added, while all the other groups did. Meaning that with enough music training, background music is not a factor influencing participant response! Additionally, the number of times the participants responded to the audio task depended on the degree of formal music training. Participants with no formal music training had the highest response rate, followed by the 1-3-year group, then the 3–5-year group, with the 5+ year group having the lowest response rate. However, all participants were similar in accuracy overall, and accuracy decreased for all groups when background music was playing. Given the similar accuracy among groups, but less frequent responding with more formal music training, it appears that formal music training helps inform participants to not respond when they don’t know the answer.

Image courtesy of Bruder et al. original paper (Psychology of Music).

Why does this matter? There are many situations when responding and getting something wrong can be more detrimental than not responding, especially in time pressure situations where mistakes are costly to correct. Although the accuracy was similar between all groups, the groups with some formal music training seemed to respond with overconfidence, but did not know enough to increase accuracy, resulting in a potentially dangerous situation. This is contrasted with the 5+ formal music training group, who showed no effect of background music on response rate and who used their trained ears to better judge the extent of their understanding of the information and were less eager to respond to a difficult task under distraction. It turns out that those middle school band lessons paid off after all, that is, if you work in a distracting, multitasking environment.