Effects of steady-state noise on verbal working memory in young adults

Nicole Marrone, Mary Alt, Gayle Dede, Sarah Olson, James Shehorn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Purpose: We set out to examine the impact of perceptual, linguistic, and capacity demands on performance of verbal working-memory tasks. The Ease of Language Understanding model (Rönnberg et al., 2013) provides a framework for testing the dynamics of these interactions within the auditory-cognitive system. Methods: Adult native speakers of English (n = 45) participated in verbal working-memory tasks requiring processing and storage of words involving different linguistic demands (closed/open set). Capacity demand ranged from 2 to 7 words per trial. Participants performed the tasks in quiet and in speech-spectrum-shaped noise. Separate groups of participants were tested at different signal-to-noise ratios. Word-recognition measures were obtained to determine effects of noise on intelligibility. Results: Contrary to predictions, steady-state noise did not have an adverse effect on working-memory performance in every situation. Noise negatively influenced performance for the task with high linguistic demand. Of particular importance is the finding that the adverse effects of background noise were not confined to conditions involving declines in recognition. Conclusions: Perceptual, linguistic, and cognitive demands can dynamically affect verbal working-memory performance even in a population of healthy young adults. Results suggest that researchers and clinicians need to carefully analyze task demands to understand the independent and combined auditory-cognitive factors governing performance in everyday listening situations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1793-1804
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing


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