“Turn an ear to hear”: How hearing-impaired listeners can exploit head orientation to enhance their speech intelligibility in noisy social settings
Head orientation enhances the spatial release from masking. Here, with their head free, listeners attended to speech at a gradually diminishing signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) and with the noise source azimuthally separated from the speech source by 180 or 90ᴼ. Young normal-hearing listeners spontaneously turned an ear towards the speech source to improve speech intelligibility in 64% of audio-only trials, but a visible talker’s face and/or cochlear implant use significantly reduced this head-turn behaviour. Instructed to explore the potential benefit of head turns, all listener groups made more head movements and followed the speech to lower SNRs. Unilateral CI users improved the most. In a virtual restaurant simulation with 9 interfering noises/voices, hearing-impaired listeners and simulated bilateral CI users typically obtained a 1-3 dB head-orientation benefit from a 30ᴼ head turn away from the talker. In this diffuse interference, the effect is due to improved target level rather than reduced noise at the better ear. Surveys of UK CI users, CI clinicians and internet-based communication advice, showed that most advice was to face the talker head on. CI users would benefit from guidelines that recommend looking sidelong to present their better hearing implanted ear towards the talker.
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