Background noise makes listening effortful and may lead to fatigue. This may compromise classroom learning, especially for children with a non-native background. In the current study, we used pupillometry to investigate listening effort and fatigue during listening comprehension under typical (0 dB signal-to-noise ratio [SNR]) and favorable (+10 dB SNR) listening conditions in 63 Swedish primary school children (7–9 years of age) performing a narrative speech–picture verification task. Our sample comprised both native (n = 25) and non-native (n = 38) speakers of Swedish. Results revealed greater pupil dilation, indicating more listening effort, in the typical listening condition compared with the favorable listening condition, and it was primarily the non-native speakers who contributed to this effect (and who also had lower performance accuracy than the native speakers). Furthermore, the native speakers had greater pupil dilation during successful trials, whereas the non-native speakers showed greatest pupil dilation during unsuccessful trials, especially in the typical listening condition. This set of results indicates that whereas native speakers can apply listening effort to good effect, non-native speakers may have reached their effort ceiling, resulting in poorer listening comprehension. Finally, we found that baseline pupil size decreased over trials, which potentially indicates more listening-related fatigue, and this effect was greater in the typical listening condition compared with the favorable listening condition. Collectively, these results provide novel insight into the underlying dynamics of listening effort, fatigue, and listening comprehension in typical classroom conditions compared with favorable classroom conditions, and they demonstrate for the first time how sensitive this interplay is to language experience.
Original languageEnglish
Article number105203
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Psychology


  • Listening effort
  • Listening-related fatigue
  • Pupillometry
  • Children
  • Speech in noise
  • Non-native speakers


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