A virtual speaker in noisy classroom conditions: supporting or disrupting children’s listening comprehension?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Aim: Seeing a speaker’s face facilitates speech recognition, particularly under noisy conditions. Evidence for how it might affect comprehension of the content of the speech is more sparse. We investigated how children’s listening comprehension is affected by multi-talker babble noise, with or without presentation of a digitally animated virtual speaker, and whether successful comprehension is related to performance on a test of executive functioning. Materials and Methods: We performed a mixed-design experiment with 55 (34 female) participants (8- to 9-year-olds), recruited from Swedish elementary schools. The children were presented with four different narratives, each in one of four conditions: audio-only presentation in a quiet setting, audio-only presentation in noisy setting, audio-visual presentation in a quiet setting, and audio-visual presentation in a noisy setting. After each narrative, the children answered questions on the content and rated their perceived listening effort. Finally, they performed a test of executive functioning. Results: We found significantly fewer correct answers to explicit content questions after listening in noise. This negative effect was only mitigated to a marginally significant degree by audio-visual presentation. Strong executive function only predicted more correct answers in quiet settings. Conclusions: Altogether, our results are inconclusive regarding how seeing a virtual speaker affects listening comprehension. We discuss how methodological adjustments, including modifications to our virtual speaker, can be used to discriminate between possible explanations to our results and contribute to understanding the listening conditions children face in a typical classroom.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-86
Number of pages8
JournalLogopedics Phoniatrics Vocology
Issue number2
Early online date2018 Apr 5
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Psychology (excluding Applied Psychology)
  • Other Medical Sciences not elsewhere specified
  • General Language Studies and Linguistics

Free keywords

  • classroom
  • comprehension
  • education
  • Listening
  • multimodality
  • noise
  • virtual humans


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