Spatial release from energetic and informational masking in a selective speech identification task

J Acoust Soc Am. 2008 Jun;123(6):4369-79. doi: 10.1121/1.2904826.


A masker can reduce target intelligibility both by interfering with the target's peripheral representation ("energetic masking") and/or by causing more central interference ("informational masking"). Intelligibility generally improves with increasing spatial separation between two sources, an effect known as spatial release from masking (SRM). Here, SRM was measured using two concurrent sine-vocoded talkers. Target and masker were each composed of eight different narrowbands of speech (with little spectral overlap). The broadband target-to-masker energy ratio (TMR) was varied, and response errors were used to assess the relative importance of energetic and informational masking. Performance improved with increasing TMR. SRM occurred at all TMRs; however, the pattern of errors suggests that spatial separation affected performance differently, depending on the dominant type of masking. Detailed error analysis suggests that informational masking occurred due to failures in either across-time linkage of target segments (streaming) or top-down selection of the target. Specifically, differences in the spatial cues in target and masker improved streaming and target selection. In contrast, level differences helped listeners select the target, but had little influence on streaming. These results demonstrate that at least two mechanisms (differentially affected by spatial and level cues) influence informational masking.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Audiometry
  • Color
  • Communication
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Massachusetts
  • Mathematics
  • Perceptual Masking*
  • Probability
  • Reference Values
  • Space Perception
  • Speech / physiology*
  • Speech Intelligibility*