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Year : 2015  |  Volume : 17  |  Issue : 77  |  Page : 227--232

Effects of sounds of locomotion on speech perception


1 The Cardiology-­Lung Clinic; School of Health and Medical Sciences, Örebro University; Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Örebro, Stockholm, Sweden
2 Audiological Research Center, Ahlsén's Research Institute, Örebro, Stockholm, Sweden
3 School of Health and Medical Sciences, Örebro University; Audiological Research Center, Ahlsén's Research Institute, Örebro, Stockholm, Sweden

Correspondence Address:
Matz Larsson
The Cardiology-­Lung Clinic, Örebro University Hospital, 70185 Örebro
Sweden
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/1463-1741.160711

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Human locomotion typically creates noise, a possible consequence of which is the masking of sound signals originating in the surroundings. When walking side by side, people often subconsciously synchronize their steps. The neurophysiological and evolutionary background of this behavior is unclear. The present study investigated the potential of sound created by walking to mask perception of speech and compared the masking produced by walking in step with that produced by unsynchronized walking. The masking sound (footsteps on gravel) and the target sound (speech) were presented through the same speaker to 15 normal-hearing subjects. The original recorded walking sound was modified to mimic the sound of two individuals walking in pace or walking out of synchrony. The participants were instructed to adjust the sound level of the target sound until they could just comprehend the speech signal ("just follow conversation" or JFC level) when presented simultaneously with synchronized or unsynchronized walking sound at 40 dBA, 50 dBA, 60 dBA, or 70 dBA. Synchronized walking sounds produced slightly less masking of speech than did unsynchronized sound. The median JFC threshold in the synchronized condition was 38.5 dBA, while the corresponding value for the unsynchronized condition was 41.2 dBA. Combined results at all sound pressure levels showed an improvement in the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) for synchronized footsteps; the median difference was 2.7 dB and the mean difference was 1.2 dB [P < 0.001, repeated-measures analysis of variance (RM-ANOVA)]. The difference was significant for masker levels of 50 dBA and 60 dBA, but not for 40 dBA or 70 dBA. This study provides evidence that synchronized walking may reduce the masking potential of footsteps.






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