Social observation increases the cardiovascular response of hearing-impaired listeners during a speech reception task

Bethany Plain*, Hidde Pielage, Michael Richter, Tanveer A. Bhuiyan, Thomas Lunner, Sophia E. Kramer, Adriana A. Zekveld

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Certain cardiovascular measures allow for distinction between sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system activity. Applied during listening, these measures may provide a novel and complementary insight into listening effort. To date, few studies have implemented cardiovascular measures of listening effort and seldom have these included hearing-impaired participants. These studies have generally measured changes in cardiovascular parameters while manipulating environmental factors, such as listening difficulty. Yet, listening effort is also known to be moderated by individual factors, including the importance of performing successfully. In this study, we aimed to manipulate success importance by adding observers to the traditional laboratory set-up. Twenty-nine hearing-impaired participants performed a speech reception task both alone and in the presence of two observers. Auditory stimuli consisted of Danish Hearing in Noise Test (HINT) sentences masked by four-talker babble. Sentences were delivered at two individually adapted signal-to-noise ratios, corresponding to 50 and 80% of sentences correct. We measured change scores, relative to baseline, of pre-ejection period, two indices of heart rate variability, heart rate and blood pressure (systolic, diastolic, and mean arterial pressure). After each condition, participants rated their effort investment, stress, tendency to give up and preference to change the situation to improve audibility. A multivariate analysis revealed that cardiovascular reactivity increased in the presence of the observers, compared to when the task was performed alone. More specifically, systolic, diastolic, and mean arterial blood pressure increased while observed. Interestingly, participants’ subjective ratings were sensitive only to intelligibility level, not the observation state. This study was the first to report results from a range of different cardiovascular variables measured from hearing-impaired participants during a speech reception task. Due to the timing of the observers’ presence, we were not able to conclusively attribute these physiological changes to being task related. Therefore, instead of representing listening effort, we suggest that the increased cardiovascular response detected during observation reveals increased physiological stress associated with potential evaluation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number108334
JournalHearing Research
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021

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