Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



College of Education and Human Services


Communication Sciences and Disorders

Committee Chair

Michelle W. Moore

Committee Member

Dennis Ruscello

Committee Member

Jeremy Donai

Committee Member

Jonah Katz


Despite redundancy in the acoustic speech signal, both children and adults demonstrate difficulty listening and learning in noise. Research has shown that the acoustic parameters of classrooms and common study places, such as libraries and coffee shops, are often exposing students daily to unhealthy levels of background noise and distraction as they attempt to access and retain new information. While younger children may encounter new words via deliberate instruction in a classroom setting, older students are more likely to access new vocabulary indirectly via reading or self-study in noisy environments often of their own choosing. In both scenarios, accurate perception of the acoustic signal and minimal auditory distraction is critical to the efficiency of the learning process. Previous studies have examined isolated word learning and some studies have manipulated noise levels. Yet, few, if any, studies have experimentally examined “real-life” noise effects on vocabulary learning when more contextual information is available to facilitate learning. To address this issue, the current study examined vocabulary learning within reading passages in three different listening conditions: multi-talker babble at 45 dB, multi-talker babble at 65 dB, and relative quiet. An impact of the loudest background noise on post-test accuracy was anticipated. Using a pretest/posttest design and manipulating the intensity level of multi-talker babble through noise cancelling headphones, 29 typically hearing college aged participants encountered 18 novel vocabulary words and accompanying engagement activities within the context of reading passages. Word learning accuracy was measured through recall and recognition tasks. Results of mixed modeling analyses showed a significant learning effect from pre-test to post-test regardless of the varying listening condition. Unexpectedly, group averages showed the highest learning on words trained in 65 dB of background noise. Perhaps the increased noise level enhanced participant focus. An additional model incorporated the different levels of background noise and found no significant effect on the performance accuracy as a function of listening condition. Random effects of participant and word as well as the impact of attention, effort, and training design on learning is also discussed. Better understanding the interaction between noise and learning at all ages is foundational to future work that can optimize hearing assistive technology, the acoustic environment in learning spaces, and improve instructional techniques to create positive language learning environments for students of all levels and abilities.