Absorption and Enjoyment During Listening to Acoustically Masked Stories
Trends in Hearing
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© The Author(s) 2020. Comprehension of speech masked by background sound requires increased cognitive processing, which makes listening effortful. Research in hearing has focused on such challenging listening experiences, in part because they are thought to contribute to social withdrawal in people with hearing impairment. Research has focused less on positive listening experiences, such as enjoyment, despite their potential importance in motivating effortful listening. Moreover, the artificial speech materials—such as disconnected, brief sentences—commonly used to investigate speech intelligibility and listening effort may be ill-suited to capture positive experiences when listening is challenging. Here, we investigate how listening to naturalistic spoken stories under acoustic challenges influences the quality of listening experiences. We assess absorption (the feeling of being immersed/engaged in a story), enjoyment, and listening effort and show that (a) story absorption and enjoyment are only minimally affected by moderate speech masking although listening effort increases, (b) thematic knowledge increases absorption and enjoyment and reduces listening effort when listening to a story presented in multitalker babble, and (c) absorption and enjoyment increase and effort decreases over time as individuals listen to several stories successively in multitalker babble. Our research indicates that naturalistic, spoken stories can reveal several concurrent listening experiences and that expertise in a topic can increase engagement and reduce effort. Our work also demonstrates that, although listening effort may increase with speech masking, listeners may still find the experience both absorbing and enjoyable.