Hearing Aid Noise Reduction Lowers the Sustained Listening Effort During Continuous Speech in Noise-A Combined Pupillometry and EEG Study

Lorenz Fiedler, Tirdad Seifi Ala, Carina Graversen, Emina Alickovic, Thomas Lunner, Dorothea Wendt

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The investigation of auditory cognitive processes recently moved from strictly controlled, trial-based paradigms toward the presentation of continuous speech. This also allows the investigation of listening effort on larger time scales (i.e., sustained listening effort). Here, we investigated the modulation of sustained listening effort by a noise reduction algorithm as applied in hearing aids in a listening scenario with noisy continuous speech. The investigated directional noise reduction algorithm mainly suppresses noise from the background. We recorded the pupil size and the EEG in 22 participants with hearing loss who listened to audio news clips in the presence of background multi-talker babble noise. We estimated how noise reduction (off, on) and signal-to-noise ratio (SNR; +3 dB, +8 dB) affect pupil size and the power in the parietal EEG alpha band (i.e., parietal alpha power) as well as the behavioral performance. Our results show that noise reduction reduces pupil size, while there was no significant effect of the SNR. It is important to note that we found interactions of SNR and noise reduction, which suggested that noise reduction reduces pupil size predominantly under the lower SNR. Parietal alpha power showed a similar yet nonsignificant pattern, with increased power under easier conditions. In line with the participants' reports that one of the two presented talkers was more intelligible, we found a reduced pupil size, increased parietal alpha power, and better performance when people listened to the more intelligible talker. We show that the modulation of sustained listening effort (e.g., by hearing aid noise reduction) as indicated by pupil size and parietal alpha power can be studied under more ecologically valid conditions. Mainly concluded from pupil size, we demonstrate that hearing aid noise reduction lowers sustained listening effort. Our study approximates to real-world listening scenarios and evaluates the benefit of the signal processing as can be found in a modern hearing aid.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEar and Hearing
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)1590-1601
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Auditory attention
  • Cognition
  • EEG
  • Listening effort
  • Pupillometry
  • Sustained attention


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