Acoustic noise and vision differentially warp the auditory categorization of speech


Speech perception requires grouping acoustic information into meaningful linguistic-phonetic units via categorical perception (CP). Beyond shrinking observers' perceptual space, CP might aid degraded speech perception if categories are more resistant to noise than surface acoustic features. Combining audiovisual (AV) cues also enhances speech recognition, particularly in noisy environments. This study investigated the degree to which visual cues from a talker (i.e., mouth movements) aid speech categorization amidst noise interference by measuring participants' identification of clear and noisy speech (0 dB signal-to-noise ratio) presented in auditory-only or combined AV modalities (i.e., A, A+noise, AV, AV+noise conditions). Auditory noise expectedly weakened (i.e., shallower identification slopes) and slowed speech categorization. Interestingly, additional viseme cues largely counteracted noise-related decrements in performance and stabilized classification speeds in both clear and noise conditions suggesting more precise acoustic-phonetic representations with multisensory information. Results are parsimoniously described under a signal detection theory framework and by a reduction (visual cues) and increase (noise) in the precision of perceptual object representation, which were not due to lapses of attention or guessing. Collectively, findings show that (i) mapping sounds to categories aids speech perception in "cocktail party" environments; (ii) visual cues help lattice formation of auditory-phonetic categories to enhance and refine speech identification.

Publication Title

Journal of the Acoustical Society of America