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Listening Effort Methodologies: Challenges and Future Directions
Most of us have experienced increased listening effort at some point, for example, in restaurants, around crowded dinner tables, or even during a teleconference call where the Internet connection was unstable. We might also “experience” listening effort vicariously through our patients, where they report things such as, “I have to work so hard to hear my granddaughter” or “I am just so tired of listening at the end of the day.” Because listening effort is relatable and because sustained increases in listening effort can have negative consequences, in recent years there has been a dramatic increase in scientific efforts to understand factors that exacerbate or ameliorate listening effort. During the period from 2011 to 2021, there was a more than tenfold increase in the number of publications referring to “listening effort” (from 9 to 104), according to a search in the Clarivate's Web of Science (www.webofknowledge.com/). Yet, the extant literature is exemplified by a divergence of findings across a multitude of methods all purporting to measure “listening effort.”
This special issue of Seminars in Hearing reflects the need for a better understanding of listening effort. Fortunately, there are almost 30 authors who contributed to this issue, representing six countries, and a breadth of expertise including hearing science, cognition, neuroscience, audiology, psychology, population health, and aging. They bring their diverse perspectives to this issue about measurement methodologies and their effects on listening effort. Unifying all of the authors and papers is the desire to advance the study of listening effort so the extant literature can be integrated into a comprehensive understanding.
The issue opens with three papers focused on physiological measurement techniques. First, Richter and colleagues review the challenges of implementing multiple physiologic measures to study listening effort. The authors argue that the combination of multiple physiologic measures could help unify the study of listening effort and they offer recommendations for overcoming challenges of combining multiple measures. Next, the article by Winn reviews the time course of listening effort as measured with pupillometry and offers suggestions for designing and interpreting studies. Then, Ryan and colleagues present the results of a study using alpha and theta power in electroencephalography frequency power measures during a speech-in-noise task.
The focus of this issue then shifts to two studies evaluating methodological choices with behavioral, response-time-based paradigms. Gustafson and colleagues report on some of the psychometric properties and the effects of task instruction on verbal response times; they also offer suggestions for separating clinical and statistical significance. Huang and colleagues present the results of a study evaluating two analytic approaches for dual-task paradigms, specifically the inclusion or exclusion of secondary task responses when the participant's primary task response was incorrect. The results of both of these studies offer insights that might help standardize future behavioral methodological approaches.
The final two articles suggest novel approaches that could help capture the multidimensionality of listening effort and also inspire researchers and clinicians. Venkitakrishnan and Wu introduce the use of facial recognition as a measure of listening difficulty and relate these findings to the study of listening effort and also emotion recognition. Shatzer and Russo review the use of another method for measuring listening effort, functional near-infrared spectroscopy.
Together, all the articles can help us better understand how methodological choices affect outcomes, so we can grow closer to understanding how results from different methods relate to each other with the goal of integrating findings into a cohesive understanding of listening effort. I hope this special issue of Seminars in Hearing encourages the standardization of some methodological approaches, and also inspires researchers to think broadly and creatively about listening effort as a construct and its measurement.
Article published online:
28 March 2023
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