May 11, 2021

Talker discontinuity disrupts attention to speech: Evidence from EEG and pupillometry

Speech is processed less efficiently from discontinuous, mixed talkers than one consistent talker, but little is known about the neural mechanisms for processing talker variability. Here, we measured psychophysiological responses to talker variability using electroencephalography (EEG) and pupillometry while listeners performed a delayed recall of digit span task. Listeners heard and recalled seven-digit sequences with both talker (single- vs. mixed-talker digits) and temporal (0- vs. 500-ms inter-digit intervals) discontinuities. Talker discontinuity reduced serial recall accuracy. Both talker and temporal discontinuities elicited P3a-like neural evoked response, while rapid processing of mixed-talkers’ speech led to increased phasic pupil dilation. Furthermore, mixed-talkers’ speech produced less alpha oscillatory power during working memory maintenance, but not during speech encoding. Overall, these results are consistent with an auditory attention and streaming framework in which talker discontinuity leads to involuntary, stimulus-driven attentional reorientation to novel speech sources, resulting in the processing interference classically associated with talker variability.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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