Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

This study investigated the development of children's skills in identifying ecologically relevant sound objects within naturalistic listening environments, using a non-linguistic analog of the classic 'cocktail-party' situation. Children aged 7-12.5 years completed a closed-set identification task in which brief, commonly encountered environmental sounds were presented at varying signal-to-noise ratios. To simulate the complexity of real-world acoustic environments, target sounds were embedded in either a single, stereophonically presented scene, or in one of two different scenes, with each scene presented to a single ear. Each target sound was either congruent or incongruent with the auditory context. Identification accuracy improved with increasing age, particularly in trials with low signal-to-noise ratios. Performance was most accurate when target sounds were incongruent with the background scene, and when sounds were presented in a single background scene. The presence of two backgrounds disproportionately disrupted children's performance relative to that of previously tested adults, and reduced children's sensitivity to contextual cues. Successful identification of familiar sounds in complex auditory contexts is the outcome of a protracted learning process, with children reaching adult levels of performance after a decade or more of experience.

Original publication




Journal article


Hear Res

Publication Date





46 - 55


Acoustic Stimulation, Adult, Age Factors, Attention, Audiometry, Auditory Perception, Child, Child Development, Cues, Female, Humans, Male, Middle Aged, Noise, Perceptual Masking, Signal Detection, Psychological, Signal-To-Noise Ratio, Sound Spectrography, Young Adult