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A. Chaparro, N. Morris, D. Downs, J. Crandall, J. M. Wood; Simulated Cataracts and Their Effect on Speech Intelligibility. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 2009;50(13):2012.
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The classic study of Sumby and Pollack (1954, JASA, 26(2), 212-215) demonstrated that visual information aided speech intelligibility under noisy auditory conditions. Their work showed that visual information is especially useful under low signal-to-noise conditions where the auditory signal leaves greater margins for improvement. We investigated whether simulated cataracts interfered with the ability of participants to use visual cues to help disambiguate the auditory signal in the presence of auditory noise.
Participants in the study were screened to ensure normal visual acuity (mean of 20/20) and normal hearing (auditory threshold ≤ 20 dB HL). Speech intelligibility was tested under an auditory only condition and two visual conditions: normal vision and simulated cataracts. The light scattering effects of cataracts were imitated using cataract-simulating filters. Participants wore blacked-out glasses in the auditory only condition and lens-free frames in the normal auditory-visual condition. Individual sentences were spoken by a live speaker in the presence of prerecorded four-person background babble set to a speech-to-noise ratio (SNR) of -16 dB. The SNR was determined in a preliminary experiment to support 50% correct identification of sentence under the auditory only conditions. The speaker was trained to match the rate, intensity and inflections of a prerecorded audio track of everyday speech sentences. The speaker was blind to the visual conditions of the participant to control for bias.Participants’ speech intelligibility was measured by comparing the accuracy of their written account of what they believed the speaker to have said to the actual spoken sentence.
Relative to the normal vision condition, speech intelligibility was significantly poorer when participants wore simulated catarcts.
The results suggest that cataracts may interfere with the acquisition of visual cues to speech perception.
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