Effects of Background Noise and Linguistic Violations on Frontal Theta Oscillations During Effortful Listening

Yousef Mohammadi*, Carina Graversen, José Biurrun Manresa, Jan Østergaard, Ole Kæseler Andersen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


OBJECTIVES: Background noise and linguistic violations have been shown to increase the listening effort. The present study aims to examine the effects of the interaction between background noise and linguistic violations on subjective listening effort and frontal theta oscillations during effortful listening.

DESIGN: Thirty-two normal-hearing listeners participated in this study. The linguistic violation was operationalized as sentences versus random words (strings). Behavioral and electroencephalography data were collected while participants listened to sentences and strings in background noise at different signal to noise ratios (SNRs) (-9, -6, -3, 0 dB), maintained them in memory for about 3 sec in the presence of background noise, and then chose the correct sequence of words from a base matrix of words.

RESULTS: Results showed the interaction effects of SNR and speech type on effort ratings. Although strings were inherently more effortful than sentences, decreasing SNR from 0 to -9 dB (in 3 dB steps), increased effort rating more for sentences than strings in each step, suggesting the more pronounced effect of noise on sentence processing that strings in low SNRs. Results also showed a significant interaction between SNR and speech type on frontal theta event-related synchronization during the retention interval. This interaction indicated that strings exhibited higher frontal theta event-related synchronization than sentences at SNR of 0 dB, suggesting increased verbal working memory demand for strings under challenging listening conditions.

CONCLUSIONS: The study demonstrated that the interplay between linguistic violation and background noise shapes perceived effort and cognitive load during speech comprehension under challenging listening conditions. The differential impact of noise on processing sentences versus strings highlights the influential role of context and cognitive resource allocation in the processing of speech.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEar and Hearing
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)721-729
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2024

Bibliographical note

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  • Hearing Tests
  • Humans
  • Linguistics
  • Memory, Short-Term
  • Noise
  • Speech Perception
  • Linguistic violations
  • EEG
  • Listening effort
  • Verbal working memory
  • Background noise


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