Spatial selective auditory attention in the presence of reverberant energy: Individual differences in normal-hearing listeners

Dorea Ruggles, Barbara Shinn-Cunningham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Listeners can selectively attend to a desired target by directing attention to known target source features, such as location or pitch. Reverberation, however, reduces the reliability of the cues that allow a target source to be segregated and selected from a sound mixture. Given this, it is likely that reverberant energy interferes with selective auditory attention. Anecdotal reports suggest that the ability to focus spatial auditory attention degrades even with early aging, yet there is little evidence that middle-aged listeners have behavioral deficits on tasks requiring selective auditory attention. The current study was designed to look for individual differences in selective attention ability and to see if any such differences correlate with age. Normal-hearing adults, ranging in age from 18 to 55 years, were asked to report a stream of digits located directly ahead in a simulated rectangular room. Simultaneous, competing masker digit streams were simulated at locations 15° left and right of center. The level of reverberation was varied to alter task difficulty by interfering with localization cues (increasing localization blur). Overall, performance was best in the anechoic condition and worst in the high-reverberation condition. Listeners nearly always reported a digit from one of the three competing streams, showing that reverberation did not render the digits unintelligible. Importantly, inter-subject differences were extremely large. These differences, however, were not significantly correlated with age, memory span, or hearing status. These results show that listeners with audiometrically normal pure tone thresholds differ in their ability to selectively attend to a desired source, a task important in everyday communication. Further work is necessary to determine if these differences arise from differences in peripheral auditory function or in more central function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)395-405
Number of pages11
JournalJARO - Journal of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • aging
  • auditory object
  • memory
  • perceptual organization
  • reverberation


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