Performance effects and subjective disturbance of speech in acoustically different office types--a laboratory experiment

Indoor Air. 2009 Dec;19(6):454-67. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0668.2009.00608.x. Epub 2009 May 15.


This study examined how the intelligibility of irrelevant speech, determined with the Speech Transmission Index (STI), affects demanding cognitive task performance. Experiment was carried out in a laboratory that resembled an open-plan office. Three speech conditions were tested corresponding to a private office (STI = 0.10), an acoustically excellent open office (STI = 0.35) and an acoustically poor open office (STI = 0.65). All conditions were presented at equal level, 48 dBA. The STI was adjusted by the relative levels of speech and masking sound. Thirty-seven students participated in the experiment that lasted for 4 h. All participants performed five tasks in each of the three speech conditions. Questionnaires were used to assess subjective perceptions of the speech conditions. Performance in the operation span task, the serial recall and the activation of prior knowledge from long-term memory were deteriorated in the speech condition with the highest speech intelligibility (STI = 0.65) in comparison with the other two conditions (STI = 0.10 and STI = 0.35). Unlike performance measures, questionnaire results showed consistent differences among all three speech conditions, i.e. subjective disturbance increased with ascending speech intelligibility. Thus, subjective comfort was disturbed more easily than performance. The results support the use of STI as an essential room acoustic design measure in open-plan offices.

Practical implications: Reduction of speech intelligibility in office environments by proper acoustic design would be beneficial in terms of both work performance and subjective comfort. Proper acoustic design requires both the use of high acoustic absorption and an appropriate masking sound.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustics*
  • Adult
  • Cognition*
  • Efficiency
  • Environment, Controlled
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory
  • Noise, Occupational*
  • Psychometrics
  • Speech Intelligibility*
  • Task Performance and Analysis*
  • Young Adult