No AccessSIG 19 Speech ScienceResearch Article28 Apr 2021

Toward an Index of Oral Somatosensory Acuity: Comparison of Three Measures in Adults


    Somatosensory targets and feedback are instrumental in ensuring accurate speech production. Individuals differ in their ability to access and respond to somatosensory information, but there is no established standard for measuring somatosensory acuity. The primary objective of this study was to determine which of three measures of somatosensory acuity had the strongest association with change in production accuracy in a vowel learning task, while controlling for the better studied covariate of auditory acuity.


    Three somatosensory tasks were administered to 20 female college students: an oral stereognosis task, a bite block task with auditory masking, and a novel phonetic awareness task. Individual scores from the tasks were compared to their performance on a speech learning task in which participants were trained to produce novel Mandarin vowels with visual biofeedback.


    Of the three tasks, only bite block adaptation with auditory masking was significantly associated with performance in the speech learning task. Participants with weaker somatosensory acuity tended to demonstrate larger increases in production accuracy over the course of training.


    The bite block adaptation task measures proprioceptive awareness rather than tactile acuity and assesses somatosensory knowledge implicitly, with limited metalinguistic demands. This small-scale study provides preliminary evidence that these characteristics may be desirable for the assessment of oral somatosensory acuity, at least in the context of vowel learning tasks. Well-normed somatosensory measures could be of clinical utility by informing diagnosis/prognosis and treatment planning.

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