Cognitive spare capacity: Evaluation data and its association with comprehension of dynamic conversations

Gitte Keidser*, Virginia Best, Katrina Freeston, Alexandra Boyce

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)
12 Downloads (Pure)


It is well-established that communication involves the working memory system, which becomes increasingly engaged in understanding speech as the input signal degrades. The more resources allocated to recovering a degraded input signal, the fewer resources, referred to as cognitive spare capacity (CSC), remain for higher-level processing of speech. Using simulated natural listening environments, the aims of this paper were to (1) evaluate an English version of a recently introduced auditory test to measure CSC that targets the updating process of the executive function, (2) investigate if the test predicts speech comprehension better than the reading span test (RST) commonly used to measure working memory capacity, and (3) determine if the test is sensitive to increasing the number of attended locations during listening. In Experiment I, the CSC test was presented using a male and a female talker, in quiet and in spatially separated babble- and cafeteria-noises, in an audio-only and in an audio-visual mode. Data collected on 21 listeners with normal and impaired hearing confirmed that the English version of the CSC test is sensitive to population group, noise condition, and clarity of speech, but not presentation modality. In Experiment II, performance by 27 normal-hearing listeners on a novel speech comprehension test presented in noise was significantly associated with working memory capacity, but not with CSC. Moreover, this group showed no significant difference in CSC as the number of talker locations in the test increased. There was no consistent association between the CSC test and the RST. It is recommended that future studies investigate the psychometric properties of the CSC test, and examine its sensitivity to the complexity of the listening environment in participants with both normal and impaired hearing.

Original languageEnglish
Article number597
Number of pages14
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberMAY
Publication statusPublished - 6 May 2015
Externally publishedYes

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