The phoneme identification test for assessment of spectral and temporal discrimination skills in children: development, normative data, and test-retest reliability studies

Sharon Cameron*, Nicky Chong-White, Kiri Mealings, Tim Beechey, Harvey Dillon, Taegan Young

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Previous research suggests that a proportion of children experiencing reading and listening difficulties may have an underlying primary deficit in the way that the central auditory nervous system analyses the perceptually important, rapidly varying, formant frequency components of speech. Purpose: The Phoneme Identification Test (PIT) was developed to investigate the ability of children to use spectro-temporal cues to perceptually categorize speech sounds based on their rapidly changing formant frequencies. The PIT uses an adaptive two-alternative forced-choice procedure whereby the participant identifies a synthesized consonant-vowel (CV) (/ba/ or /da/) syllable. CV syllables differed only in the second formant (F2) frequency along an 11-step continuum (between 0% and 100%-representing an ideal /ba/ and /da/, respectively). The CV syllables were presented in either quiet (PIT Q) or noise at a 0 dB signal-to-noise ratio (PIT N). Research Design: Development of the PIT stimuli and test protocols, and collection of normative and test-retest reliability data. Study Sample: Twelve adults (aged 23 yr 10 mo to 50 yr 9 mo, mean 32 yr = mo) and 137 typically developing, primary-school children (aged 6 yr 0 mo to 12 yr 4 mo, mean 9 yr 3 mo). There were 73 males and 76 females. Data Collection and Analysis: Data were collected using a touchscreen computer. Psychometric functions were automatically fit to individual data by the PIT software. Performance was determined by the width of the continuum for which responses were neither clearly /ba/ nor /da/ (referred to as the uncertainty region [UR]). A shallower psychometric function slope reflected greater uncertainty. Age effects were determined based on raw scores. Z scores were calculated to account for the effect of age on performance. Outliers, and individual data for which the confidence interval of the UR exceeded a maximum allowable value, were removed. Nonparametric tests were used as the data were skewed toward negative performance. Results: Across participants, the median value of the F2 range that resulted in uncertain responses was 33% in quiet and 40% in noise. There was a significant effect of age on the width of this UR (p,0.00001) in both quiet and noise, with performance becoming adult like by age 9 on the PITQand age 10 on the PIT N. A skewed distribution toward negative performance occurred in both quiet (p=0.01) and noise (p=0.006). Median UR scores were significantly wider in noise than in quiet (T = 2041, p < 0.0000001). Performance (z scores) across the two tests was significantly correlated (r = 0.36, p = 0.000009). Test-retest z scores were significantly correlated in both quiet and noise (r = 0.4 and 0.37, respectively, p < 0.0001). Conclusions: The PIT normative data show that the ability to identify phonemes based on changes in formant transitions improves with age, and that some children in the general population have performance much worse than their age peers. In children, uncertainty increases when the stimuli are presented in noise. The test is suitable for use in planned studies in a clinical population.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)135-150
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Audiology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • categorical perception
  • central auditory processing disorder
  • spectral processing
  • speech perception
  • temporal processing


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