P33 Sentence comprehension and word recall in noisy primary classroom: What is the effect of the individual cognitive competences?
Students spend a large part of their time at school while listening to a teacher speaking with a background of noise and in poor acoustic conditions. The effort that is required for the basic tasks of hearing and decoding what the teacher says may leave fewer cognitive resources for other, more complex processes such as comprehension and memorization of the oral message. Theoretically, the Ease of Language Understanding framework suggests that the effect of listening conditions on auditory tasks might be modulated by the individual characteristics of the listeners, such as their linguistic abilities and cognitive skills. This mediation effect should be apparent of both accuracy in performing the task and listening effort. This study aims to explore whether and how the effect of the listening condition on a complex academic task is mediated by individual (i) cognitive skills (selective attention, working memory capacity), (ii) linguistic competences (reading comprehension), and (iii) self-rated noise sensitivity. To the scope, primary school children (N=120, grades 3 to 5) were presented with a sentence comprehension and word recall task in the presence of a two-talkers background noise. The level of the masker was modulated so as to obtain three different signal-to-noise ratios (SNR: +1, +5, and +9 dB) which are highly representative of a typical classroom environment. Data on accuracy and response time (RT) were acquired; for each listening condition the children were also asked to provide a self-rating of the perceived effort. Finally, measures of the individual cognitive profile were obtained in quiet conditions a week after the experimental activity. The preliminary results indicate a main effect of the listening condition on both accuracy and response time in the sentence comprehension task, with the lowest SNR yielding a poorer performance and slower RTs. A significant effect of the grade was also found on both dependent variables in the comprehension task and in the number of correctly recalled items in the memory task, indicating a general disadvantage of the youngest students compared with their grade 5 peers. Concerning the effect of their cognitive profile, only a significant effect of the linguistic competences was found on the accuracy in the comprehension task. A more detailed statistical analysis will allow to better disclose the interplay of external and internal factors on the performance in the task, yielding additional information on the mutual relationship between sound environment and student’s behavior.