Linguistic, perceptual, and cognitive factors underlying musicians’ benefits in noise-degraded speech perception


Previous studies have reported better speech-in-noise (SIN) recognition in musicians relative to nonmusicians while others have failed to observe this “musician SIN advantage.” Here, we aimed to clarify equivocal findings and determine the most relevant perceptual and cognitive factors that do and do not account for musicians' benefits in SIN processing. We measured behavioral performance in musicians and nonmusicians on a battery of SIN recognition, auditory backward masking (a marker of attention), fluid intelligence (IQ), and working memory tasks. We found that musicians outperformed nonmusicians in SIN recognition but also demonstrated better performance in IQ, working memory, and attention. SIN advantages were restricted to more complex speech tasks featuring sentence-level recognition with speech-on-speech masking (i.e., QuickSIN) whereas no group differences were observed in non-speech simultaneous (noise-on-tone) masking. This suggests musicians' advantage is limited to cases where the noise interference is linguistic in nature. Correlations showed SIN scores were associated with working memory, reinforcing the importance of general cognition to degraded speech perception. Lastly, listeners' years of music training predicted auditory attention scores, working memory skills, general fluid intelligence, and SIN perception (i.e., QuickSIN scores), implying that extensive musical training enhances perceptual and cognitive skills. Overall, our results suggest (i) enhanced SIN recognition in musicians is due to improved parsing of competing linguistic signals rather than signal-in-noise extraction, per se, and (ii) cognitive factors (working memory, attention, IQ) at least partially drive musicians’ SIN advantages.

Publication Title

Hearing Research