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Does the coherence of background speech contribute to its detrimental impact on cognitive performance?

: Schlittmeier, Sabine; Assfalg, Alexander; Hofmann, Maximilian; Liebl, Andreas

European Acoustics Association -EAA-; Danish Acoustical Society -DAS-:
Forum Acusticum 2011. Proceedings. CD-ROM : 27 June - 01 July, Aalborg, Denmark
Madrid: Spanish Acoustical Society, 2011
ISBN: 978-84-694-1520-7
Forum Acusticum <6, 2011, Aalborg>
European Congress on Acoustics <6, 2011, Aalborg>
Conference Paper
Fraunhofer IBP ()

At many office workplaces employees must perform verbal tasks, such as reading or writing text. Often they must do so in the presence of background speech due to conversations or phone calls among colleagues. Background speech has been shown to impair cognitive performance in laboratory studies. It is assumed that these negative effects can be generalized to real life office tasks and, therefore, a decline in employees' efficiency is expected to occur in ambient speech. Current approaches to predicting performance effects of background speech focus on its physical characteristics and consider speech as a complex time-varying acoustic signal with a certain frequency characteristic. Here, impairments of performance have been mostly tested using simple short term-memory tasks, such as remembering a series of digits. However, verbal office tasks, like reading, are far more than remembering single items in their correct order, as words need to be stored and connected to understand and derive information. Analogously, background speech is defined by more than its physical characteristics since coherent narration comprises informational content based on semantics, syntax, and pragmatics that might contribute to performance decrements in office tasks. In the current paper, we present two experiments that explored the interrelation between background speech coherence and its impact on reading comprehension as a verbal task. The results are discussed with respect to noise abatement measures in office environments.