Are musicians at an advantage when processing speech on speech?
In the current study, we explored whether understanding speech in the presence of background talkers may be enhanced through musical training. Earlier studies have shown that musical training can grant normal-hearing listeners an advantage on auditory tasks, not only when these relate to music, but also for speech comprehension, in particular in noise or in the presence of background talkers (Başkent & Gaudrain, 2016; Swaminathan et al., 2015). Taken together, however, various studies addressing a ‘musician advantage’ provide inconclusive results (for a review see: Coffey, Mogilever, & Zatorre, 2017), which can be partly explained through the use of different measures (e.g. behavioral versus physiological).
The present study combined an off-line and on on-line measure of speech perception to investigate how automatic processes can contribute to the potential perceptual advantage of musicians. We first used a sentence-recall task (offline task), in which participants recall and repeat target Dutch sentences that are masked by sentences from two different talkers with varying target/masker ratios. Following, we used a visual-world paradigm employing similar stimuli, using eye tracking (Cooper, 1974; Salverda & Tanenhaus, 2017). Here, while listening to sentences, participants visually search for the image of the target word among images of a phonological competitor (ie. ham-hamster) and two unrelated distractor images. This task provides an online measure of speech processing as it captures the time course of gaze fixations to the target and/or the competitor word, as well as the changes in event related pupil dilations. The online measure indicates how quickly participants integrate the acoustic information in the signal when they are accessing the mental lexicon and the extent of the mental effort involved in processing of linguistic information. Results indicate that there is an overall effect of musicianship. Both results will be presented in a comparison between musicians and non-musicians.