The Effects of Energetic and Informational Masking on the Words-in-Noise Test (Win)

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Background: In certain masking paradigms, the masker can have two components, energetic and informational. Energetic masking is the traditional peripheral masking, whereas informational masking involves confusions (uncertainty) between the signal and masker that originate more centrally in the auditory system. Sperry et al (1997) used Northwestern University Auditory Test No. 6 (NU-6) words in multitalker babble to study the differential effects of energetic and informational masking using babble played temporally forward (FB) and backward (BB). The FB and BB are the same except BB is void of the contextual and semantic content cues that are available in FB. It is these informational cues that are thought to fuel informational masking. Sperry et al found 15% better recognition performance (∼3 dB) on BB than on FB, which can be interpreted as the presence of informational masking in the FB condition and not in the BB condition (Dirks and Bower, 1969). The Words-in-Noise Test (WIN) (Wilson, 2003; Wilson and McArdle, 2007) uses NU-6 words as the signal and multitalker babble as the masker, which is a combination of stimuli that potentially could produce informational masking. The WIN presents 5 or 10 words at each of seven signal-to-noise ratios (S/N, SNR) from 24 to 0 dB in 4 dB decrements with the 50% correct point being the metric of interest. The same recordings of the NU-6 words and multitalker babble used by Sperry et al are used in the WIN. Purpose: To determine whether informational masking was involved with the WIN. Research Design: Descriptive, quasi-experimental designs were conducted in three experiments using FB and BB in various paradigms in which FB and BB varied from 4.3 sec concatenated segments to essentially continuous. Study Sample: Eighty young adults with normal hearing and 64 older adults with sensorineural hearing losses participated in a series of three experiments. Data Collection and Analysis: Experiment 1 compared performance on the normal WIN (FB) with performance on the WIN in which the babble segment with each word was reversed temporally (BB). Experiment 2 examined the effects of continuous FB and BB segments on WIN performance. Experiment 3 replicated the Sperry et al (1997) experiment at 4 and 0 dB S/N using NU-6 words in the FB and BB conditions. Results: Experiment 1-with the WIN paradigm, recognition performances on FB and BB were the same for listeners with normal hearing and listeners with hearing loss, except at the 0 dB S/N with the listeners with normal hearing at which performance was significantly better on BB than FB. Experiment 2-recognition performances on FB and BB were the same at all SNRs for listeners with normal hearing using a slightly modified WIN paradigm. Experiment 3-there was no difference in performances on the FB and BB conditions with either of the two SNRs. Conclusions: Informational masking was not involved in the WIN paradigm. The Sperry et al results were not replicated, which is thought to be related to the way in which the Sperry et al BB condition was produced.