THE ROLE OF SPATIAL SEPARATION ON SELECTIVE AND DISTRIBUTED ATTENTION TO SPEECH
Processing speech in multi-speaker environments poses substantial challenges to the human perceptual and attention system. Moreover, different contexts may require employing different listening strategies. For instance, in some cases individuals pay attention Selectively to one speaker and attempt to ignore all other task-irrelevant sounds, whereas other contexts may require listeners to Distribute their attention among several speakers. Spatial and spectral acoustic cues both play an important role in assisting listeners to segregate concurrent speakers. However, how these cues interact with varying demands for allocating top-down attention is less clear. In the current study, we test and compare how spatial cues are utilized to benefit performance on these different types of attentional tasks. To this end, participants listened to a concoction of two or four speakers, presented either as emanating from different locations in space or with no spatial separation. In separate trials, participants were required to employ different listening strategies, and detect a target-word spoken either by one pre-defined speaker (Selective Attention) or spoken by any of the speakers (Distributed Attention). Results indicate that the presence of spatial cues improved performance, particularly in the two-speaker condition, which is in line with the important role of spatial cues in stream segregation. However, spatial cues provided similar benefits to performance under Selective and Distributed attention. This pattern suggests the despite the advantage of spatial cues for stream segregation, they were nonetheless insufficient for directing a more focused ‘attentional spotlight’ towards the location of a designated speaker in the Selective attention condition.