Objective Assessment of Speech Intelligibility in Crowded Public Spaces

Douglas S. Brungart*, Mary E. Barrett, Julie I. Cohen, Calli Fodor, Calli M. Yancey, Sandra Gordon-Salant

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


The objective of this study was to obtain a normative database of speech intelligibility data for young normal-hearing listeners communicating in public spaces. A total of 174 listeners participated in an interactive speech intelligibility task that required four-person groups to conduct a live version of the Modified Rhyme Test in noisy public spaces. The public spaces tested included a college library, a college cafeteria, a casual dining restaurant during lunch hour, and a crowded bar during happy hour. At the start of each trial, one of the participants was randomly selected as the talker, and a tablet computer was used to prompt them to say a word aloud from the Modified Rhyme Test. Then, the other three participants were required to select this word from one of six rhyming alternatives displayed on three other tablet computers. The tablet computers were also used to record the SPL at each listener location during and after the interval where the target talker was speaking. These SPL measurements were used to estimate the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) in each trial of the experiment. As expected, the results show that speech intelligibility decreases, response time increases, and perceived difficulty increases as the background noise level increases. There was also a systematic decrease in SNR with increasing background noise, with SNR decreasing 0.44 dB for every 1 dB increase in ambient noise level above 60 dB. Overall, the results of this study have demonstrated how low-cost tablet computer-based data collection systems can be used to collect live-talker speech intelligibility data in real-world environments. We believe these techniques could be adapted for use in future studies focused on obtaining ecologically valid assessments of the effects of age, hearing impairment, amplification, and other factors on speech intelligibility performance in real-world environments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)68S-78S
JournalEar and Hearing
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Ecological validity
  • Real-World Intelligibility


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