Although results from previous studies have demonstrated that the acoustic effects of a single reflection are perceptually suppressed after repeated exposure to a particular configuration of source and reflection, the extent to which this dynamic echo suppression might generalize to speech understanding in room environments with multiple reflections and reverberation is largely unknown. Here speech intelligibility was measured using the coordinate response measure corpus both with and without prior listening exposure to a reverberant room environment, which was simulated using virtual auditory space techniques. Prior room listening exposure was manipulated by presenting either a two-sentence carrier phrase that preceded the target speech, or no carrier phrase within the room environment. Results from 14 listeners indicate that with prior room exposure, masked speech reception thresholds were on average 2.7 dB lower than thresholds without exposure, an improvement in intelligibility of over 18 percentage points on average. This effect, which is shown to be absent in anechoic space and greatly reduced under monaural listening conditions, demonstrates that prior binaural exposure to reverberant rooms can improve speech intelligibility, perhaps due to a process of perceptual adaptation to the acoustics of the listening room.
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The authors wish to thank Noah Jacobs and Jeremy Schepers for their assistance in data collection. The authors also gratefully acknowledge the helpful comments of Dr. Rachel Keen (formerly Rachel K. Clifton), Dr. D. Wesley Grantham, an anonymous reviewer, and Dr. Richard L. Freyman (Associate Editor). Work supported by NIH-NIDCD (Grant No. R01DC008168).