Extrinsic cognitive load impairs low-level speech perception

Sven Mattys, Katharine Barden, Arthur G. Samuel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent research has suggested that the extrinsic cognitive load generated by performing a nonlinguistic visual task while perceiving speech increases listeners’ reliance on lexical knowledge and decreases their capacity to perceive phonetic detail. In the present study, we asked whether this effect is accounted for better at a lexical or a sublexical level. The former would imply that cognitive load directly affects lexical activation but not perceptual sensitivity; the latter would imply that increased lexical reliance under cognitive load is only a secondary consequence of imprecise or incomplete phonetic encoding. Using the phoneme restoration paradigm, we showed that perceptual sensitivity decreases (i.e., phoneme restoration increases) almost linearly with the effort involved in the concurrent visual task. However, cognitive load had only a minimal effect on the contribution of lexical information to phoneme restoration. We concluded that the locus of extrinsic cognitive load on the speech system is perceptual rather than lexical. Mechanisms by which cognitive load increases tolerance to acoustic imprecision and broadens phonemic categories were discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)748-754
Number of pages7
JournalPsychonomic bulletin & review
Issue number3
Early online date5 Nov 2013
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2014

Bibliographical note

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013. This is an author produced version of a paper published in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher's self-archiving policy.


  • Speech perception
  • Divided attention
  • Cognitive load
  • Phoneme restoration
  • Lexical access

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