Acoustic and perceptual impact of face masks on speech: A scoping review (preprint)


During the COVID-19 pandemic, personal protective equipment such as facial masks and coverings were mandated all over the globe to protect against the virus. Although the primary aim of wearing face masks is to protect against viral transmission, they pose a potential burden on communication. The purpose of this scoping review was to identify the state of the evidence of the effect of facial coverings on acoustic and perceptual speech outcomes. The scoping review followed the framework created by Arksey & O’Malley (2005) and the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses Extension for Scoping Reviews guidelines (PRISMA-ScR; Tricco et al., 2018). The search was completed in May 2021 across the following databases: PubMed, EMBASE, PsycINFO, Web of Science, and Google Scholar. A total of 3,846 records were retrieved from the database search. Following the removal of duplicates, 3,479 remained for the title/abstract screen and 149 were selected for the full-text review. Of these, 52 were included in the final review and relevant data were extracted. The 52 articles included in the final review consisted of; 11 studied perceptual outcomes only, 16 studied acoustic outcomes only, and 14 studied both perceptual and acoustic outcomes. 13 of these investigated acoustic features that could be used for mask classification. Although the findings varied from article to article, many trends stood out. Many articles revealed that face masks act as a low pass filter, dampening sounds at higher frequencies; however, the frequency range and the degree of attenuation varied based on face mask type. All but five articles that reported on perceptual outcomes showed a common trend that wearing a face mask was associated with poorer speech intelligibility. The findings of the scoping review provided evidence that facial coverings negatively impacted speech intelligibility, which is likely due to a combination of auditory and visual cue degradation. Due to the continued prevalence of mask use, how facial coverings affect a wider variety of speaker populations, such as those with communication impairments, and strategies for overcoming communication challenges should be explored.

OSF Preprints