Background noise, Spoken language, Young adults


Purpose: To investigate how different types of background noise that differ in their level of linguistic content affect speech acoustics, speech fluency, and language production for young adult speakers when performing a monologue discourse task.

Method: Forty young adults monologued by responding to open ended questions in a silent baseline and five background noise conditions (debate, movie dialogue, contemporary music, classical music, pink noise). Measures related to speech acoustics (intensity and frequency), speech fluency (speech rate, pausing, and disfluencies), and language production (lexical, morphosyntactic, and macro-linguistic structure) were analyzed and compared across conditions. Participants also reported on which conditions they perceived as more distracting.

Results: All noise conditions resulted in some change to spoken language compared with the silent baseline. Effects on speech acoustics were consistent with expected changes due to the Lombard effect (e.g., increased intensity and fundamental frequency). Effects on speech fluency showed decreased pausing and increased disfluencies. Several background noise conditions also seemed to interfere with language production.

Conclusion: Findings suggest that young adults present with both compensatory and interference effects when speaking in noise. Several adjustments may facilitate intelligibility when noise is present and help both speaker and listener maintain attention on the production. Other adjustments provide evidence that background noise eliciting linguistic interference has the potential to degrade spoken language even for healthy young adults, because of increased cognitive demands.

Original Publication Citation

Harmon, T. G., Dromey, C., Nelson, B., Chapman, K. (2021). Effects of background noise on speech and language in young adults. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. 64(4), 1104-1116.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



American Speech-Language-Hearing Association


David O. McKay School of Education


Communication Disorders

University Standing at Time of Publication

Assistant Professor