Speech Spoken by Familiar People Is More Resistant to Interference by Linguistically Similar Speech
Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition
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© 2020 American Psychological Association. Understanding speech in adverse conditions is affected by experience-a familiar voice is substantially more intelligible than an unfamiliar voice when competing speech is present, even if the content of the speech (the words) are controlled. This familiar-voice benefit is observed consistently, but its underpinnings are unclear: Do familiar voices simply attract more attention, are they inherently more intelligible because they have predictable acoustic characteristics, or are they more intelligible in a mixture because they are more resistant to interference from other sounds? We recruited pairs of native English-speaking participants who were friends or romantic couples. Participants reported words from closed-set English sentences (i.e., Oldenburg Matrix Test; Zokoll et al., 2013) spoken by a familiar talker (the participant's partner) or an unfamiliar talker. We compared 3 masker conditions that are acoustically similar but differ in their demands: (1) English Oldenburg sentences; (2) Oldenburg sentences in a language incomprehensible to the listener (Russian or Spanish); and (3) unintelligible signal-correlated noise. We adaptively varied the target-to-masker ratio to obtain 50% speech reception thresholds. We observed a large (5 dB) familiar-voice benefit when the target and masker were both English sentences. This benefit was attenuated (to 2 dB) when the masker was in an incomprehensible language and disappeared when it was signal-correlated noise. These results suggest that familiar voices did not benefit intelligibility because they were more predictable or because they attracted greater attention, rather familiarity with a target voice reduced interference from maskers that are linguistically similar to the target.