Effect of Speech Rate on Neural Tracking of Speech

Jana Annina Mueller*, Dorothea Wendt, Birger Kollmeier, Stefan Debener, Thomas Brand

*Corresponding author for this work

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    Speech comprehension requires effort in demanding listening situations. Selective attention may be required for focusing on a specific talker in a multi-talker environment, may enhance effort by requiring additional cognitive resources, and is known to enhance the neural representation of the attended talker in the listener's neural response. The aim of the study was to investigate the relation of listening effort, as quantified by subjective effort ratings and pupil dilation, and neural speech tracking during sentence recognition. Task demands were varied using sentences with varying levels of linguistic complexity and using two different speech rates in a picture-matching paradigm with 20 normal-hearing listeners. The participant's task was to match the acoustically presented sentence with a picture presented before the acoustic stimulus. Afterwards they rated their perceived effort on a categorical effort scale. During each trial, pupil dilation (as an indicator of listening effort) and electroencephalogram (as an indicator of neural speech tracking) were recorded. Neither measure was significantly affected by linguistic complexity. However, speech rate showed a strong influence on subjectively rated effort, pupil dilation, and neural tracking. The neural tracking analysis revealed a shorter latency for faster sentences, which may reflect a neural adaptation to the rate of the input. No relation was found between neural tracking and listening effort, even though both measures were clearly influenced by speech rate. This is probably due to factors that influence both measures differently. Consequently, the amount of listening effort is not clearly represented in the neural tracking.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number449
    JournalFrontiers in Psychology
    Number of pages15
    Publication statusPublished - 2019


    • Listening effort
    • Neural tracking of speech
    • Linguistic complexity
    • Speech rate
    • Time-compressed sentences
    • Time-expanded sentences
    • Pupillometry
    • Speech comprehension


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