The Parsing Syllable Envelopes test for assessment of amplitude modulation discrimination skills in children

Sharon Cameron, Nicky Chong-White, Kiri Mealings, Tim Beechey, Harvey Dillon, Taegan Young

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Intensity peaks and valleys in the acoustic signal are salient cues to syllable structure, which is accepted to be a crucial early step in phonological processing. As such, the ability to detect low-rate (envelope) modulations in signal amplitude is essential to parse an incoming speech signal into smaller phonological units. Purpose: The Parsing Syllable Envelopes (ParSE) test was developed to quantify the ability of children to recognize syllable boundaries using an amplitude modulation detection paradigm. The envelope of a 750- msec steady-state /a/ vowel is modulated into two or three pseudo-syllables using notches with modulation depths varying between 0% and 100% along an 11-step continuum. In an adaptive three-alternative forced-choice procedure, the participant identified whether one, two, or three pseudo-syllables were heard. Research Design: Development of the ParSE stimuli and test protocols, and collection of normative and test-retest reliability data. Study Sample: Eleven adults (aged 23 yr 10mo to 50 yr 9mo,mean 32 yr 10mo) and 134 typically developing, primary-school children (aged 6 yr 0 mo to 12 yr 4 mo, mean 9 yr 3 mo). There were 73 males and 72 females. Data Collection and Analysis: Data were collected using a touchscreen computer. Psychometric functions (PFs) were automatically fit to individual data by the ParSE software. Performance was related to the modulation depth at which syllables can be detected with 88% accuracy (referred to as the upper boundary of the uncertainty region [UBUR]). A shallower PF slope reflected a greater level of uncertainty. Age effects were determined based on raw scores. z Scores were calculated to account for the effect of age on performance. Outliers, and individual data for which the confidence interval of the UBUR exceeded a maximum allowable value, were removed. Nonparametric tests were used as the data were skewed toward negative performance. Results: Across participants, the performance criterion (UBUR) was met with a median modulation depth of 42%. The effect of age on the UBUR was significant (p <0.00001). The UBUR ranged from 50% modulation depth for 6-yr-olds to 25% for adults. Children aged 6-10 had significantly higher uncertainty region boundaries than adults. A skewed distribution toward negative performance occurred (p = 0.00007). There was no significant difference in performance on the ParSE between males and females (p = 0.60). Test-retest z scores were strongly correlated (r = 0.68, p <0.0000001). Conclusions: The ParSE normative data show that the ability to identify syllable boundaries based on changes in amplitude modulation improves with age, and that some children in the general population have performance much worse than their age peers. The test is suitable for use in planned studies in a clinical population.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)151-163
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Audiology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2018


  • amplitude modulation
  • central auditory processing disorder
  • dyslexia
  • speech envelope


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