Research Article| Volume 31, ISSUE 4, P504.e1-504.e9, July 2017

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Acoustic Measures of Voice and Physiologic Measures of Autonomic Arousal during Speech as a Function of Cognitive Load

  • Megan K. MacPherson
    Address correspondence and reprint requests to Megan K. MacPherson, School of Communication Science and Disorders, Florida State University, 201 W. Bloxham Street, Tallahassee, FL 32306-1200.
    Department of Communication Science and Disorders, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL
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  • Defne Abur
    Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, Boston University, Boston, MA
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  • Cara E. Stepp
    Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, Boston University, Boston, MA

    Department of Biomedical Engineering, Boston University, Boston, MA

    Department of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA
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Published:December 06, 2016DOI:



      This study aimed to determine the relationship among cognitive load condition and measures of autonomic arousal and voice production in healthy adults.

      Study Design

      A prospective study design was conducted.


      Sixteen healthy young adults (eight men, eight women) produced a sentence containing an embedded Stroop task in each of two cognitive load conditions: congruent and incongruent. In both conditions, participants said the font color of the color words instead of the word text. In the incongruent condition, font color differed from the word text, creating an increase in cognitive load relative to the congruent condition in which font color and word text matched. Three physiologic measures of autonomic arousal (pulse volume amplitude, pulse period, and skin conductance response amplitude) and four acoustic measures of voice (sound pressure level, fundamental frequency, cepstral peak prominence, and low-to-high spectral energy ratio) were analyzed for eight sentence productions in each cognitive load condition per participant.


      A logistic regression model was constructed to predict the cognitive load condition (congruent or incongruent) using subject as a categorical predictor and the three autonomic measures and four acoustic measures as continuous predictors. It revealed that skin conductance response amplitude, cepstral peak prominence, and low-to-high spectral energy ratio were significantly associated with cognitive load condition.


      During speech produced under increased cognitive load, healthy young adults show changes in physiologic markers of heightened autonomic arousal and acoustic measures of voice quality. Future work is necessary to examine these measures in older adults and individuals with voice disorders.

      Key Words

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