Communication Sciences and Disorders Professors Scott Seeman and Jennine Harvey-Northrop co-authored a recent publication in the journal Noise and Health titled “Cognitive Function Predicts Listening Effort Performance During Complex Tasks In Normally Aging Adults.”
Seeman became interested in how much effort is required for listening through his research background in auditory perception and through his personal experience of having hearing loss. Listeners with hearing loss often have to try harder to hear what is being said. The amount of effort required for listening is also affected by age and cognitive function.
Seeman and Harvey-Northrop examined listening effort measured through what is called a dual-task procedure. Listeners were asked to listen and repeat back isolated words and words in sentences while at the same time performing a visual letter recognition task. Decreased performance on the secondary visual task indicates the amount of listening effort required for the primary task. Greater listening effort was associated with age and hearing loss and was significantly correlated with performance on cognitive assessments such as auditory working memory and visual processing speed.
Seeman is currently examining other ways of measuring listening effort. These include psychophysical indicators of stress during listening such as heart rate variability. A second area of research will look at developing a listening effort questionnaire that can be used in clinic as part of hearing assessments for older adults. As it stands right now there is not a good clinical standard for assessing listening effort. It is hoped that this questionnaire will prove useful for assessing and treating hearing loss.