Listening fatigue in typically-developing children

Key et al. demonstrate that typically-developing school-aged children exhibit significant fatigue after listening to speech in noise over a period of 3 hours, even with 5–15-minute breaks. The listening conditions in this experiment were comparable to what children experience daily in the classroom; they state, “…many classroom environments exhibit higher noise levels and more reverberation than which is recommended for optimal listening (American National Standards Institute, 2010; Sato & Bradley, 2008)…”

So how exactly were these children fatigued? The children demonstrated longer behavioral reaction times, greater lapses of attention, and significant neural measures of fatigue (EEG— the children had smaller-amplitude P300 responses post-listening). The authors discuss how cognitive fatigue is rarely studied in children, but has clear implications for those invested in teaching children and engaging them in learning activities.

This study also reminds us that we can’t, as adults, assume that conditions that would or wouldn’t exhaust us apply to children—“Children’s ability to recognize speech in background noise continues to develop until the teenage years (Neuman et al., 2010; Talarico et al., 2007), which makes their ability to process auditory information more susceptible to the detrimental effects of noise (Neuman et al., 2010).” Also, “… background noise has greater detrimental effects on speech understanding abilities in younger children than it does in older children (Bradley & Sato, 2008).” The current study demonstrated some age effect, too, with younger children more susceptible to fatigue. 

Key, A.P., Gustafson, S.J., Rentmeester, L., Hornsby, B.W.Y., Bess, F.H. (2017). Speech-processing fatigue in children: auditory event-related potential and behavioral measures. Journal of Speech, Langauge, and Hearing Research. Advance online publication. doi:10.1044/2016_JSLHR-H-16-0052