When people listen to speech, they hear two types of information: what is being said (such as “That’s a ball”) and who said it (such as MOMMY).
Prior studies have shown that when adults understand speech better when it is spoken by a familiar voice. In this study, we tested whether school-age children also understand speech better when listening to a familiar voice. First, children learned the voices of three previously unknown speakers over five days. Following this voice familiarization, children listened to words mixed with background noise and were asked to tell us what they heard. These words were spoken both by the now familiar speakers and by another set of unfamiliar speakers.
Our results showed that, like adults, children understand speech better when it is produced by a familiar voice. Interestingly, this benefit of voice familiarity only occurred when listening to highly familiar words (such as “book” or “cat”) and not to words that are less familiar to school-age children (such as “fate” or “void”). We also found that the benefit of familiarity with a voice was most noticeable in children with the poorest performance, suggesting that familiarity with a voice may be especially useful for children who have difficulty understanding spoken language.