Informational masking effects of speech versus nonspeech noise on cortical auditory evoked potentials

Kathy R. Vander Werff, Christopher E. Niemczak, Kenneth Morse

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Purpose: Background noise has been categorized as energetic masking due to spectrotemporal overlap of the target and masker on the auditory periphery or informational masking due to cognitive-level interference from relevant content such as speech. The effects of masking on cortical and sensory auditory processing can be objectively studied with the cortical auditory evoked potential (CAEP). However, whether effects on neural response morphology are due to energetic spectrotemporal differences or informational content is not fully understood. The current multi-experiment series was designed to assess the effects of speech versus nonspeech maskers on the neural encoding of speech information in the central auditory system, specifically in terms of the effects of speech babble noise maskers varying by talker number. Method: CAEPs were recorded from normal-hearing young adults in response to speech syllables in the presence of energetic maskers (white or speech-shaped noise) and varying amounts of informational maskers (speech babble maskers). The primary manipulation of informational masking was the number of talkers in speech babble, and results on CAEPs were compared to those of nonspeech maskers with different temporal and spectral characteristics. Results: Even when nonspeech noise maskers were spectrally shaped and temporally modulated to speech babble maskers, notable changes in the typical morphology of the CAEP in response to speech stimuli were identified in the presence of primarily energetic maskers and speech babble maskers with varying numbers of talkers. Conclusions: While differences in CAEP outcomes did not reach significance by number of talkers, neural components were significantly affected by speech babble maskers compared to nonspeech maskers. These results suggest an informational masking influence on neural encoding of speech information at the sensory cortical level of auditory processing, even without active participation on the part of the listener.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4014-4029
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing


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