Page 39 - Spring 2019
P. 39

Too Young for the
Cocktail Party?
Lori I. Leibold One reason why children and cocktail parties do not mix.
Ad'i’m" There are many reasons why children and cocktail parties do not mix. One less
Cent“ {M Hearing Resenmh obvious reason is that children struggle to hear and understand speech when mul-
Bnys T°w" Nafioml Rgseamh Hospital tiple people are talking at the same time. Cherry (1953) was not likely thinking
555 NM“: am.‘ Sue“ about children when he coined the “cocktail party problem" over 60 years ago
Omaha’ Nebraska 53131 referring to the speech perception difiiculties individuals often face in social en-
USA vironments with multiple sources of competing sound. Subsequent research has
Email; largely focused on trying to understand how adults recognize what one person is
lofi_lgjb0ld@b0y§[Dwn_0[g saying when other people are talking at the same time (reviewed by Bronkhorst.
2000; McDermott, 2009). However, modern classrooms pose many of the same
challenges as a cocktail party, with multiple simultaneous talkers and dynamic
Emily Buss listening conditions (Brill et al., 2018). in contrast to the cocktail party, however,
Addmy failure to recognize speed] in a classroom can have important consequences for
Deparmwm Dfomlaryngology/Head a childs educational achievement  social development. These concerns have
prompted several laboratories, Lncluding ours, to study development of the ability
and Neck Surgerr . . . . . . .
Univflmy “Numb Carolina in Cmpfil to recogmze speech in multisource backgrounds. This article summarizes findings
Hm from the smaller number of studies that have examined the cocktail party prob-
170 M . 3 Drive lemin children, providing evidence that children are at an even greater disadvan-
tage than adults in complex acoustic environments that contain multiple sources
Campus Box 7070 f _ d
Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599 ° “°"‘P‘”"3 5°“ 5'
USA For much of the school day, children are tasked with listening to their teacher in
Emm.l_ the context of sounds produced by a range of different sound sources in the class-
' room. Under these conditions, we would call the teacher’s voice the target and the
cbuss@mcd.unc.edu
background sounds would be the maskersl All sounds in the environment, in-
cluding the target and the maskers, combine in the air before reaching the child’s
Lauren Calandmcdn ears. This combination of acoustic waveforms is often referred to as an auditory
scene. An example of an auditory scene is illustrated in Figure 1, where sounds in-
_ Aadm“: clude the relatively steady noise produced by a projector as well as more dynamic
Depamnem °f P5ych°l°3K“l Suences sounds, such as speech produced by classmates who are talking at the same time
C355 Weflem Reserve University as their teacher. To hear and understand the teacher the spectral and temporal
Cleveland Hearing and Speech Cam“ characteristics of this mixture of incoming sounds must be accurately represented
11535 Eudid Avenue b - - - - -
_ y the outer ear, middle ear, cochlea, and auditory nerve. This processing is often
Cleveland’ Ohm 44106 referred to as peripheral encoding. Auditory perception is critically dependent on
USA the peripheral encoding of sound and the fidelity with which this information is
Email; transmitted to the brain. Processing within the central auditory system is then
la“[gn‘c3]_andfuCcj°@C3sg_gdu needed to identify and group the acoustic waveforms that were generated by the
teacher from those that were generated by the other sources (sound source segre-
gation) and then allocate attention to the auditory “object” corresponding to the
teacher’s voice while discounting competing sounds (selective auditory attention).
Auditory scene analysis also relies on cognitive processes. such as memory, as
well as listening experience and linguistic knowledge. Collectively, these processes
are often referred to as auditory scene analysis (e.g., Bregman, 1990; Darwin and
Hukin. 1999).
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