The effect of reward on listening effort as reflected by the pupil dilation response

Thomas Koelewijn, Adriana A. Zekveld, Thomas Lunner, Sophia E. Kramer

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38 Citations (Scopus)


Listening to speech in noise can be effortful but when motivated people seem to be more persevering. Previous research showed effects of monetary reward on autonomic responses like cardiovascular reactivity and pupil dilation while participants processed auditory information. The current study examined the effects of monetary reward on the processing of speech in noise and related listening effort as reflected by the pupil dilation response. Twenty-four participants (median age 21 yrs) performed two speech reception threshold (SRT) tasks, one tracking 50% correct (hard) and one tracking 85% correct (easy), both of which they listened to and repeated sentences uttered by a female talker. The sentences were presented with a single male talker or, in a control condition, in quiet. Participants were told that they could earn a high (5 euros) or low (0.20 euro) reward when repeating 70% or more of the sentences correctly. Conditions were presented in a blocked fashion and during each trial, pupil diameter was recorded. At the end of each block, participants rated the effort they had experienced, their performance, and their tendency to quit listening. Additionally, participants performed a working memory capacity task and filled in a need-for-recovery questionnaire as these tap into factors that influence the pupil dilation response. The results showed no effect of reward on speech perception performance as reflected by the SRT. The peak pupil dilation showed a significantly larger response for high than for low reward, for the easy and hard conditions, but not the control condition. Higher need for recovery was associated with a higher subjective tendency to quit listening. Consistent with the Framework for Understanding Effortful Listening, we conclude that listening effort as reflected by the peak pupil dilation is sensitive to the amount of monetary reward.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)106-112
Number of pages7
JournalHearing research
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2018


  • Listening effort
  • Monetary reward
  • Need for recovery
  • Pupil response
  • Speech reception

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