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Brain Res. 2010 Dec 13;1365:48-65. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2010.09.070. Epub 2010 Sep 25.

Effects of degraded sensory input on memory for speech: behavioral data and a test of biologically constrained computational models.

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Volen National Center for Complex Systems, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA, USA.


Poor hearing acuity reduces memory for spoken words, even when the words are presented with enough clarity for correct recognition. An "effortful hypothesis" suggests that the perceptual effort needed for recognition draws from resources that would otherwise be available for encoding the word in memory. To assess this hypothesis, we conducted a behavioral task requiring immediate free recall of word-lists, some of which contained an acoustically masked word that was just above perceptual threshold. Results show that masking a word reduces the recall of that word and words prior to it, as well as weakening the linking associations between the masked and prior words. In contrast, recall probabilities of words following the masked word are not affected. To account for this effect we conducted computational simulations testing two classes of models: Associative Linking Models and Short-Term Memory Buffer Models. Only a model that integrated both contextual linking and buffer components matched all of the effects of masking observed in our behavioral data. In this Linking-Buffer Model, the masked word disrupts a short-term memory buffer, causing associative links of words in the buffer to be weakened, affecting memory for the masked word and the word prior to it, while allowing links of words following the masked word to be spared. We suggest that these data account for the so-called "effortful hypothesis", where distorted input has a detrimental impact on prior information stored in short-term memory.

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