The Presence of Another Individual Influences Listening Effort, But Not Performance

Hidde Pielage, Adriana A Zekveld, Gabrielle Helena Saunders, Niek J Versfeld, Thomas Lunner, Sophia E Kramer

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Objectives: The aim of this study was to modify a speech perception in noise test to assess whether the presence of another individual (co-presence), relative to being alone, affected listening performance and effort expenditure. Furthermore, this study assessed if the effect of the other individual’s presence on listening effort was influenced by the difficulty of the task and whether participants had to repeat the sentences they listened to, or not.
Design: 34 young, normal-hearing participants (mean age: 24.7 years) listened to spoken Dutch sentences that were masked with a stationary noise masker and presented through a loudspeaker. The participants alternated between repeating sentences (active condition) and not repeating sentences (passive condition). They did this either alone or together with another participant in the booth. When together, participants took turns repeating sentences. The speech in noise test was performed adaptively at three intelligibility levels (20%, 50% and 80% sentences correct) in a block wise fashion. During testing, pupil size was recorded as an objective outcome measure of listening effort.
Results: Lower speech intelligibility levels were associated with increased peak pupil dilation (PPDs) and doing the task in the presence of another individual (compared to doing it alone) significantly increased peak pupil dilation. No interaction effect between intelligibility and co-presence on PPD was found. The results suggested that the change of PPD between doing the task alone or together was especially apparent for people who started the experiment in the presence of another individual. Furthermore, PPD was significantly lower during passive listening, compared to active listening. Finally, it seemed that performance was unaffected by co-presence.
Conclusion: The increased PPDs during listening in the presence of another participant suggest that more effort was invested during the task. However, it seems that the additional effort did not result in a change of performance. This study showed that at least one aspect of the social context of a listening situation (in this case co-presence) can affect listening effort, indicating that social context might be important to consider in future cognitive hearing research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1577-1589
Number of pages13
JournalEar and hearing
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2021


  • Copresence
  • Listening effort
  • Pupil dilation response
  • Social context
  • Speech perception


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