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Q J Exp Psychol (Hove). 2014;67(9):1842-62. doi: 10.1080/17470218.2013.879391. Epub 2014 Mar 25.

Working memory affects older adults' use of context in spoken-word recognition.

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a Psychology of Language Department , Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, The Netherlands and Centre for Language Studies, Radboud University , Nijmegen , The Netherlands.


Many older listeners report difficulties in understanding speech in noisy situations. Working memory and other cognitive skills may modulate older listeners' ability to use context information to alleviate the effects of noise on spoken-word recognition. In the present study, we investigated whether verbal working memory predicts older adults' ability to immediately use context information in the recognition of words embedded in sentences, presented in different listening conditions. In a phoneme-monitoring task, older adults were asked to detect as fast and as accurately as possible target phonemes in sentences spoken by a target speaker. Target speech was presented without noise, with fluctuating speech-shaped noise, or with competing speech from a single distractor speaker. The gradient measure of contextual probability (derived from a separate offline rating study) affected the speed of recognition. Contextual facilitation was modulated by older listeners' verbal working memory (measured with a backward digit span task) and age across listening conditions. Working memory and age, as well as hearing loss, were also the most consistent predictors of overall listening performance. Older listeners' immediate benefit from context in spoken-word recognition thus relates to their ability to keep and update a semantic representation of the sentence content in working memory.


Ageing; Individual differences; Sentence context; Speech perception; Working memory

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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