Working memory and intelligibility of hearing-aid processed speech

Pamela E. Souza*, Kathryn H. Arehart, Jing Shen, Melinda Anderson, James M. Kates

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Previous work suggested that individuals with low working memory capacity may be at a disadvantage in adverse listening environments, including situations with background noise or substantial modification of the acoustic signal. This study explored the relationship between patient factors (including working memory capacity) and intelligibility and quality of modified speech for older individuals with sensorineural hearing loss. The modification was created using a combination of hearing aid processing [wide-dynamic range compression (WDRC) and frequency compression (FC)] applied to sentences in multitalker babble. The extent of signal modification was quantified via an envelope fidelity index. We also explored the contribution of components of working memory by including measures of processing speed and executive function. We hypothesized that listeners with low working memory capacity would perform more poorly than those with high working memory capacity across all situations, and would also be differentially affected by high amounts of signal modification. Results showed a significant effect of working memory capacity for speech intelligibility, and an interaction between working memory, amount of hearing loss and signal modification. Signal modification was the major predictor of quality ratings. These data add to the literature on hearing-aid processing and working memory by suggesting that the working memory-intelligibility effects may be related to aggregate signal fidelity, rather than to the specific signal manipulation. They also suggest that for individuals with low working memory capacity, sensorineural loss may be most appropriately addressed with WDRC and/or FC parameters that maintain the fidelity of the signal envelope.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number0526
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberMAY
StatePublished - 2015


  • Aging
  • Cognition
  • Compression
  • Hearing aid
  • Hearing loss
  • Intelligibility
  • Quality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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