Objective assessment of listening effort: coregistration of pupillometry and EEG

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    Listening to speech in noise is effortful, particularly for people with hearing impairment. While it is known that effort is related to a complex interplay between bottom-up and top-down processes, the cognitive and neurophysiological mechanisms contributing to effortful listening remain unknown. Therefore, a reliable physiological measure to assess effort remains elusive. This study aimed to determine whether pupil dilation and alpha power change, two physiological measures suggested to index listening effort, assess similar processes. Listening effort was manipulated by parametrically varying spectral resolution (16- and 6-channel noise vocoding) and speech reception thresholds (SRT; 50% and 80%) while 19 young, normal-hearing adults performed a speech recognition task in noise. Results of off-line sentence scoring showed discrepancies between the target SRTs and the true performance obtained during the speech recognition task. For example, in the SRT80% condition, participants scored an average of 64.7%. Participants' true performance levels were therefore used for subsequent statistical modelling. Results showed that both measures appeared to be sensitive to changes in spectral resolution (channel vocoding), while pupil dilation only was also significantly related to their true performance levels (%) and task accuracy (i.e., whether the response was correctly or partially recalled). The two measures were not correlated, suggesting they each may reflect different cognitive processes involved in listening effort. This combination of findings contributes to a growing body of research aiming to develop an objective measure of listening effort.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-13
    Number of pages13
    JournalTrends in Hearing
    Publication statusPublished - 2017

    Bibliographical note

    Copyright the Author(s) 2017. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


    • alpha power
    • pupil dilation
    • listening effort
    • listening in noise
    • speech perception
    • spectral resolution


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