Review Article

An overview on informational masking


Background and Aim: In noisy environments, two types of masking including energetic masking (EM) and informational masking (IM) occur. EM results from the spectral overlap of the target and maskers on the basilar membrane, while IM occurs at higher level. This paper aimed to review the concept of IM in terms of historical perspective and definitions, the important cues for releasing from it, age-related effects and its neural basis.
Recent Findings: The data from psychoacoustic, behavioral, and neuro-imaging studies were reviewed and discussed in order to provide an overall image of IM. According to these studies, it seems that perceptual segregation between the target and maskers is the most important cues for releasing from IM. This process takes place simply and without any effort in adults with normal hearing; however, it does not occur easily in children, elderly people and those with impaired hearing. Moreover, it seems that both top-down and bottom-up processing are involved in IM formation.
Conclusion: Since IM leads to failure in selection of auditory objects and prevents the individual from auditory scene analysis, understanding the IM concept leads to a better knowledge of speech perception in noise.

1. Anderson S, Kraus N. Objective neural indices of speech in noise perception. Trends Amplif. 2010;14(2):73-83. doi: 10.1177/1084713810380227
2. Cherry EC. Some experiments on the recognition of speech, with one and two ears. J Acoust Soc Am. 1953;25(5):975-9. doi: 10.1121/1.1907229
3. Wightman FL, Kistler DJ, O'Bryan A. Individual differences and age effects in a dichotic informational masking paradigm. J Acoust Soc Am. 2010;128(1):270-9. doi: 10.1121/1.3436536
4. Brungart DS, Simpson BD, Ericson MA, Scott KR. Informational and energetic masking effects in the perception of multiple simultaneous talkers. J Acoust Soc Am. 2001;110(5 Pt 1):2527-38. doi: 10.1121/1.1408946
5. Wegel RL, Lane CE. The auditory masking of one pure tone by another and its probable relation to the dynamics of the inner ear. Physics Rev. 1924;23(2):266-85.
6. Carhart R, Tillman TW, Greetis ES. Perceptual masking in multiple sound backgrounds. J Acoust Soc Am. 1969;45(3):694-703. doi: 10.1121/1.1911445
7. Pollack I. Auditory informational masking. J Acoust Soc Am. 1975;57(S1). doi: 10.1121/1.1995329
8. Neff DL, Green DM. Masking produced by spectral uncertainty with multicomponent maskers. Percept Psychophys. 1987;41(5):409-15. doi:10.3758/bf03203033
9. Leek MR, Brown ME, Dorman MF. Informational masking and auditory attention. Percept Psychophys. 1991;50(3):205-14. doi: 10.3758/bf03206743
10. Kidd G Jr, Mason CR, Deliwala PS, Woods WS, Colburn HS. Reducing informational masking by sound segregation. J Acoust Soc Am. 1994;95(6):3475-80. doi: 10.1121/1.410023
11. Durlach NI, Mason CR, Kidd G Jr, Arbogast TL, Colburn HS, Shinn-Cunningham BG. Note on informational masking. J Acoust Soc Am. 2003;113(6):2984-7. doi: 10.1121/1.1570435
12. Bolia RS, Nelson WT, Ericson MA, Simpson BD. A speech corpus for multitalker communications research. J Acoust Soc Am. 2000;107(2):1065-6. doi: 10.1121/1.428288
13. Brungart DS. Informational and energetic masking effects in the perception of two simultaneous talkers. J Acoust Soc Am. 2001;109(3):1101-9. doi: 10.1121/1.1345696
14. Semeraro HD, Rowan D, van Besouw RM, Allsopp AA. Development and evaluation of the British English coordinate response measure speech-in-noise test as an occupational hearing assessment tool. Int J Audiol. 2017;56(10):749-58. doi: 10.1080/14992027.2017.1317370
15. Shinn-Cunningham B. Models of plasticity in spatial auditory processing. Audiol Neurootol. 2001;6(4):187-91. doi: 10.1159/000046830
16. Brungart DS, Simpson BD. Within-ear and across-ear interference in a cocktail-party listening task. J Acoust Soc Am. 2002;112(6):2985-95. doi: 10.1121/1.1512703
17. Brungart DS, Simpson BD. Whithin-ear and across-ear interference in a dichotic cocktail party listening task: effects of masker uncertainty. J Acoust Soc Am. 2004;115(1):301-10. doi: 10.1121/1.1628683
18. Neff DL, Dethlefs TM. Individual differences in simu¬ltaneous masking with random-frequency, multicomponent maskers. J Acoust Soc Am. 1995;98(1):125-34. doi: 10.1121/1.413748
19. Kidd G Jr, Mason CR, Richards VM, Gallun FJ, Durlach NI. Informational masking. In: Yost WA, Popper AN, Fay RR, editors. Auditory perception of sound source. 2008. p. 143-89.
20. Neff DL, Callaghan BP. Effective properties of multi¬component simultaneous maskers under conditions of uncertainty. J Acoust Soc Am. 1988;83(5):1833-8. doi: 10.1121/1.396518
21. Oxenham AJ, Fligor BJ, Mason CR, Kidd G Jr. Informational masking and musical training. J Acoust Soc Am. 2003;114(3):1543-9. doi: 10.1121/1.1598197
22. Swaminathan J, Mason CR, Streeter TM, Best V, Kidd G Jr, Patel AD. Erratum: Musical training, individual differences and the cocktail party problem. Sci Rep. 2015;25(5):14401. doi: 10.1038/srep14401
23. Dai B, McQueen JM, Hagoort P, Kösem A. Pure linguistic interference during comprehension of competing speech signals. J Acoust Soc Am. 2017;141(3):EL249. doi: 10.1121/1.4977590
24. Richards VM, Neff DN. Cuing effects for informational masking. J Acoust Soc Am. 2004;115(1):289-300. doi: 10.1121/1.1631942
25. Richards VM, Haung R, Kidd G Jr. Masker-first advantage for cues in informational masking. J Acoust Soc Am. 2004;116(4 Pt 1):2278-88. doi: 10.1121/1.1784433
26. Durlach NI, Mason CR, Shinn-Cunningham BG, Arbogast TL, Colburn HS, Kidd G Jr. Informational masking: counteracting the effects of stimulus uncertainty by decreasing target-masker similarity. J Acoust Soc Am. 2003;114(1):368-79. doi: 10.1121/1.1577562
27. Kidd G Jr, Mason CR, Arbogast TL. Similarity, uncertainty, and masking in the identification of nonspeech auditory patterns. J Acoust Soc Am. 2002;111(3):1367-76. doi: 10.1121/1.1448342
28. Yost WA. Erratum: Spatial release from masking based on binaural processing for up to six maskers. J Acoust Soc Am. 2017;141(4):2473. doi: 10.1121/1.4979981
29. Ahveninen J, Kopčo N, Jääskeläinen IP. Psychophysics and neuronal bases of sound localization in humans. Hear Res. 2014;307:86-97. doi: 10.1016/j.heares.2013.07.008
30. Misurelli SM, Litovsky RY. Spatial release from masking in children with bilateral cochlear implants and with normal hearing: effect of target-interferer similarity. J Acoust Soc Am. 2015;138(1):319-31. doi: 10.1121/1.4922777
31. Freyman RL, Balakrishnan U, Helfer KS. Spatial release from informational masking in speech recognition. J Acoust Soc Am. 2001;109(5 Pt 1):2112-22. doi: 10.1121/1.1354984
32. Yost WA, Dye RH Jr, Sheft S. A simulated "cocktail party" with up to three sound sources. Percept Psychophys. 1996;58(7):1026-36. doi: 10.3758/bf03206830
33. Hall JW 3rd, Buss E, Grose JH. Informational masking release in children and adults. J Acoust Soc Am. 2005;118(3 Pt 1):1605-13. doi: 10.1121/1.1992675
34. Allen P, Wightman F. Effects of signal and masker uncertainty on children's detection. J Speech Hear Res. 1995;38(2):503-11. doi: 10.1044/jshr.3802.503
35. Oh EL, Wightman F, Lutfi RA. Children's detection of pure-tone signals with random multitone maskers. J Acoust Soc Am. 2001;109(6):2888-95. doi: 10.1121/1.1371764
36. Wightman FL, Kistler DJ. Informational masking of speech in children: Effects of ipsilateral and contralateral distractors. J Acoust Soc Am. 2005;118:3164-76. doi: 10.1121/1.2082567
37. Jarollahi F, Amiri M, Jalaei S, Sameni SJ. The effects of auditory spatial training on informational masking release in elderly listeners: a study protocol for a randomized clinical trial. Version 2. F1000Res. 2019;8:420. doi: 10.12688/f1000research.18602.2
38. Rajan R, Cainer KE. Ageing without hearing loss or cognitive impairment causes a decrease in speech intelligibility only in informational maskers. Neuroscience. 2008;23;154(2):784-95. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2008.03.067
39. Amiri M, Jarollahi F, Jalaie S, Sameni SJ. A new speech-in-noise test for measuring informational masking in speech perception among elderly listeners. Cureus. 2020;12(3). e7356. doi: 10.7759/cureus.7356
40. Ben-David BM, Tse VY, Schneider BA. Does it take older adults longer than younger adults to perceptually segregate a speech target from a background masker? Hear Res. 2012;290(1-2):55-63. doi: 10.1016/j.heares.2012.04.022
41. Füllgrabe C, Moore BC, Stone MA. Age-group differences in speech identification despite matched audiometrically normal hearing: contributions from auditory temporal processing and cognition. Front Aging Neurosci. 2015;6:347. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2014.00347
42. Goossens T, Vercammen C, Wouters J, van Wieringen A. Masked speech perception across the adult lifespan: Impact of age and hearing impairment. Hear Res. 2017;344:109-24. doi: 10.1016/j.heares.2016.11.004
43. Lu Z, Daneman M, Schneider BA. Does increasing the intelligibility of a competing sound source interfere more with speech comprehension in older adults than it does in younger adults? Atten Percept Psychophys. 2016;78(8):2655-77. doi: 10.3758/s13414-016-1193-5
44. Helfer KS, Freyman RL. Aging and speech-on-speech masking. Ear Hear. 2008;29(1):87-98. doi: 10.1097/AUD.0b013e31815d638b
45. Helfer KS, Merchant GR, Freyman RL. Aging and the effect of target-masker alignment. J Acoust Soc Am. 2016;140(5):3844. doi: 10.1121/1.4967297
46. Micheyl C, Arthaud P, Reinhart C, Collet L. Informational masking in normal-hearing and hearing-impaired listeners. Acta Otolaryngol. 2000;120(2):242-6. doi: 10.1080/000164800750001017
47. Alexander JM, Lutfi RA. Informational masking in hearing-impaired and normal-hearing listeners: sensation level and decision weights. J Acoust Soc Am. 2004;116(4 Pt 1):2234-47. doi: 10.1121/1.1784437
48. Lutfi RA. A model of auditory pattern-analysis based on componene-relative entropy. J Acoust Soc Am. 1993;94(2 Pt 1):748-58. doi: 10.1121/1.408204
49. Scott SK, Rosen S, Wickham L, Wise RJ. A positron emission tomography study of the neural basis of informational and energetic masking effects in speech perception. J Acoust Soc Am. 2004;115(2):813-21. doi: 10.1121/1.1639336
50. Szalárdy O, Tóth B, Farkas D, György E, Winkler I. Neural correlates of informational masking in the human brain in the cocktail party situations. Front Psychol. 2019;10:786. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00786
51. Carlile S, Corkhill C. Selective spatial attention modulate bottom-up informational masking of speech. Sci Rep. 2015;5:8662. doi: 10.1038/srep08662
IssueVol 29 No 3 (2020) QRcode
SectionReview Article(s)
Informational masking perceptual masking energetic masking

Rights and permissions
Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
How to Cite
Amiri M, Jarollahi F. An overview on informational masking. Aud Vestib Res. 2020;29(3):128-139.