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Unmasking the effects of masking on performance: The potential of multiple-voice masking in the office environment
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Broadband noise is often used as a masking sound to combat the negative consequences of background speech on performance in open-plan offices. As office workers generally dislike broadband noise, it is important to find alternatives that are more appreciated while being at least not less effective. The purpose of experiment 1 was to compare broadband noise with two alternatives—multiple voices and water waves—in the context of a serial short-term memory task. A single voice impaired memory in comparison with silence, but when the single voice was masked with multiple voices, performance was on level with silence. Experiment 2 explored the benefits of multiple-voice masking in more detail (by comparing one voice, three voices, five voices, and seven voices) in the context of word processed writing (arguably a more office-relevant task). Performance (i.e., writing fluency) increased linearly from worst performance in the one-voice condition to best performance in the seven-voice condition. Psychological mechanisms underpinning these effects are discussed.
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