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Title: Decoding auditory attention and neural language processing in adverse conditions and different listener groups
Author: Exenberger, Anna
ISNI:       0000 0004 8508 3019
Awarding Body: UCL (University College London)
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2020
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This thesis investigated subjective, behavioural and neurophysiological (EEG) measures of speech processing in various adverse conditions and with different listener groups. In particular, this thesis focused on different neural processing stages and their relationship with auditory attention, effort, and measures of speech intelligibility. Study 1 set the groundwork by establishing a toolbox of various neural measures to investigate online speech processing, from the frequency following response (FFR) and cortical measures of speech processing, to the N400, a measure of lexico-semantic processing. Results showed that peripheral processing is heavily influenced by stimulus characteristics such as degradation, whereas central processing units are more closely linked to higher-order phenomena such as speech intelligibility. In Study 2, a similar experimental paradigm was used to investigate differences in neural processing between a hearing-impaired and a normal-hearing group. Subjects were presented with short stories in different levels of multi-talker babble noise, and with different settings on their hearing aids. Findings indicate that, particularly at lower noise levels, the hearing-impaired group showed much higher cortical entrainment than the normal- hearing group, despite similar levels of speech recognition. Intersubject correlation, another global neural measure of auditory attention, however, was similarly affected by noise levels in both the hearing-impaired and the normal-hearing group. This finding indicates extra processing in the hearing-impaired group only on the level of the auditory cortex. Study 3, in contrast to Studies 1 and 2 (which both investigated the effects of bottom-up factors on neural processing), examined the links between entrainment and top-down factors, specifically motivation; as well as reasons for the 5 higher entrainment found in hearing-impaired subjects in Study 2. Results indicated that, while behaviourally there was no difference between incentive and non-incentive conditions, neurophysiological measures of attention such as intersubject correlation were affected by the presence of an incentive to perform better. Moreover, using a specific degradation type resulted in subjects' increased cortical entrainment under degraded conditions. These findings support the hypothesis that top-down factors such as motivation influence neurophysiological measures; and that higher entrainment to degraded speech might be triggered specifically by the reduced availability of spectral detail contained in speech.
Supervisor: Iverson, P. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available