Examining listeners’ perception of spoken words with different face masks
The COVID-19 pandemic made face masks part of daily life. While masks protect against the virus, it is important to understand the impact masks have on listeners’ recognition of spoken words. We examined spoken word recognition under three different mask conditions (no mask; cloth mask; Kn95 mask) and in both easy (low density, high phonotactic probability) and hard (high density, low phonotactic probability) words in a lexical decision task. In Experiment 1, participants heard all words and nonwords under all three mask conditions. In Experiment 2, participants heard each word and nonword only once under one of the mask conditions. The reaction time and accuracy results were consistent between Experiments 1 and 2. The pattern of results was such that the no mask condition produced the fastest and most accurate responses followed by the Kn95 mask condition and the cloth mask condition, respectively. Furthermore, there was a trend towards a speed-accuracy trade-off with Word Type. Easy words produced faster but less accurate responses relative to hard words. The finding that cloth masks had a more detrimental impact on spoken word recognition than Kn95 masks is consistent with previous research, and the current results further demonstrate that this effect extends to individual word recognition tasks with only audio presentation.