The role of speech fidelity in the irrelevant sound effect: Insights from noise-vocoded speech backgrounds

Josh Dorsi, Navin Viswanathan, Lawrence D. Rosenblum, James W. Dias

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


The Irrelevant Sound Effect (ISE) is the finding that background sound impairs accuracy for visually presented serial recall tasks. Among various auditory backgrounds, speech typically acts as the strongest distractor. Based on the changing-state hypothesis, speech is a disruptive background because it is more complex than other nonspeech backgrounds. In the current study, we evaluate an alternative explanation by examining whether the speech-likeness of the background (speech fidelity) contributes, beyond signal complexity, to the ISE. We did this by using noisevocoded speech as a background. In Experiment 1, we varied the complexity of the background by manipulating the number of vocoding channels. Results indicate that the ISE increases with the number of channels, suggesting that more complex signals produce greater ISEs. In Experiment 2, we varied complexity and speech fidelity independently. At each channel level, we selectively reversed a subset of channels to design a low-fidelity signal that was equated in overall complexity. Experiment 2 results indicated that speech-like noise-vocoded speech produces a larger ISE than selectively reversed noise-vocoded speech. Finally, in Experiment 3, we evaluated the locus of the speech-fidelity effect by assessing the distraction produced by these stimuli in a missing-item task. In this task, even though noisevocoded speech disrupted task performance relative to silence, neither its complexity nor speech fidelity contributed to this effect. Together, these findings indicate a clear role for speech fidelity of the background beyond its changingstate quality and its attention capture potential.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2152-2161
Number of pages10
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physiology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • General Psychology
  • Physiology (medical)


Dive into the research topics of 'The role of speech fidelity in the irrelevant sound effect: Insights from noise-vocoded speech backgrounds'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this