Do you see what I am saying? Exploring visual enhancement of speech comprehension in noisy environments

Lars A. Ross, Dave Saint-Amour, Victoria M. Leavitt, Daniel C. Javitt, John J. Foxe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

455 Scopus citations


Viewing a speaker's articulatory movements substantially improves a listener's ability to understand spoken words, especially under noisy environmental conditions. It has been claimed that this gain is most pronounced when auditory input is weakest, an effect that has been related to a well-known principle of multisensory integration - "inverse effectiveness." In keeping with the predictions of this principle, the present study showed substantial gain in multisensory speech enhancement at even the lowest signal-to-noise ratios (SNRs) used (-24 dB), but it was also evident that there was a "special zone" at a more intermediate SNR of -12 dB where multisensory integration was additionally enhanced beyond the predictions of this principle. As such, we show that inverse effectiveness does not strictly apply to the multisensory enhancements seen during audiovisual speech perception. Rather, the gain from viewing visual articulations is maximal at intermediate SNRs, well above the lowest auditory SNR where the recognition of whole words is significantly different from zero. We contend that the multisensory speech system is maximally tuned for SNRs between extremes, where the system relies on either the visual (speech-reading) or the auditory modality alone, forming a window of maximal integration at intermediate SNR levels. At these intermediate levels, the extent of multisensory enhancement of speech recognition is considerable, amounting to more than a 3-fold performance improvement relative to an auditory-alone condition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1147-1153
Number of pages7
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Audiovisual
  • Crossmodal
  • Inverse effectiveness
  • Lip-reading
  • Multisensory
  • Speech perception
  • Speech-reading

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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