Informational masking of speech by acoustically similar intelligible and unintelligible interferers

Robert Summers*, Brian Roberts

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Masking experienced when target speech is accompanied by a single interfering voice is often primarily informational masking (IM). IM is generally greater when the interferer is intelligible than when it is not (e.g., speech from an unfamiliar language), but the relative contributions of acoustic-phonetic and linguistic interference are often difficult to assess owing to acoustic differences between interferers (e.g., different talkers). Three-formant analogues (F1+F2+F3) of natural sentences were used as targets and interferers. Targets were presented monaurally either alone or accompanied contralaterally by interferers from another sentence (F0 = 4 semitones higher); a target-to-masker ratio (TMR) between ears of 0, 6, or 12 dB was used. Interferers were either intelligible or rendered unintelligible by delaying F2 and advancing F3 by 150 ms relative to F1, a manipulation designed to minimize spectro-temporal differences between corresponding interferers. Target-sentence intelligibility (keywords correct) was 67% when presented alone, but fell considerably when an unintelligible interferer was present (49%) and significantly further when the interferer was intelligible (41%). Changes in TMR produced neither a significant main effect nor an interaction with interferer type. Interference with acoustic-phonetic processing of the target can explain much of the impact on intelligibility, but linguistic factors—particularly interferer intrusions—also make an important contribution to IM.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1113-1125
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of the Acoustical Society of America
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 14 Feb 2020

Bibliographical note

© 2020 Author(s). All article content, except where otherwise noted, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (

This research was supported by Research Grant No. ES/
N014383/1 from the Economic and Social Research Council
(United Kingdom), awarded to B.R.


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