School of Communication Sciences and Disorders Speech Perception Assessment Laboratory

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Current Research
Speech Understanding Using Surgical Masks

In this project we are evaluating whether surgical masks have an effect on speech understanding in listeners with normal hearing and hearing impairment. In Phase One of this project, speech perception was assessed for individuals with normal hearing and hearing loss using a traditional paper surgical mask with speech stimuli administered in the presence and absence of dental office noise (Mendel, L.L, Gardino, J.A., & Atcherson, S.R., 2008).

A total of 31 adults participated in the first study (1 talker, 15 listeners with normal hearing, and 15 with hearing impairment). The normal hearing group had thresholds of 25 dB HL or better at the octave frequencies from 250 through 8000 Hz while the hearing loss group had varying degrees and configurations of hearing loss with thresholds equal to or poorer than 25 dB HL for the same octave frequencies.

Selected lists from the Connected Speech Test (CST) were digitally recorded with and without a surgical mask present and then presented to the listeners in four conditions: without a mask in quiet, without a mask in noise, with a mask in quiet, and with a mask in noise. A significant difference was found in the spectral analyses of the speech stimuli with and without the mask. The presence of a surgical mask, however, did not have a detrimental effect on speech understanding in either the normal-hearing or hearing-impaired groups. The dental office noise did have a significant effect on speech understanding for both groups. These findings suggest that the presence of a surgical mask did not negatively affect speech understanding. However, the presence of noise did have a deleterious effect on speech perception and warrants further attention in health-care environments.

Phase Two of this study is focused on assessing the effect of three masks (a traditional paper mask and two different masks that allow some visual cues) with three groups of listeners: normal hearing, moderately hearing impaired, and severe-to-profoundly hearing impaired. 

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Last Updated: 10/9/12