Measuring the subjective cost of listening effort using a discounting task

Drew J. McLaughlin, Todd S. Braver, Jonathan E. Peelle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Purpose: Objective measures of listening effort have been gaining prominence, as they provide metrics to quantify the difficulty of understanding speech under a variety of circumstances. A key challenge has been to develop paradigms that enable the complementary measurement of subjective listening effort in a quantitatively precise manner. In this study, we introduce a novel decision-making paradigm to examine age-related and individual differences in subjective effort during listening. Method: Older and younger adults were presented with spoken sentences mixed with speech-shaped noise at multiple signal-to-noise ratios (SNRs). On each trial, subjects were offered the choice between completing an easier listening trial (presented at +20 dB SNR) for a smaller monetary reward and completing a harder listening trial (presented at either +4, 0, −4, −8, or −12 dB SNR) for a greater monetary reward. By varying the amount of the reward offered for the easier option, the subjective value of performing effortful listening trials at each SNR could be assessed. Results: Older adults discounted the value of effortful listening to a greater degree than young adults, opting to accept less money in order to avoid more difficult SNRs. Additionally, older adults with poorer hearing and smaller working memory capacities were more likely to choose easier trials; however, in younger adults, no relationship with hearing or working memory was found. Self-reported measures of economic status did not affect these relationships. Conclusions: These findings suggest that subjective listening effort depends on factors including, but not necessarily limited to, hearing and working memory. Additionally, this study demonstrates that economic decision-making paradigms can be a useful approach for assessing subjective listening effort and may prove beneficial in future research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)337-347
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021


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