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J Acoust Soc Am. 1995 Jan;97(1):593-608.

How young and old adults listen to and remember speech in noise.

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  • 1University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.


Two experiments using the materials of the Revised Speech Perception in Noise (SPIN-R) Test [Bilger et al., J. Speech Hear. Res. 27, 32-48 (1984)] were conducted to investigate age-related differences in the identification and the recall of sentence-final words heard in a babble background. In experiment 1, the level of the babble was varied to determine psychometric functions (percent correct word identification as a function of S/N ratio) for presbycusics, old adults with near-normal hearing, and young normal-hearing adults, when the sentence-final words were either predictable (high context) or unpredictable (low context). Differences between the psychometric functions for high- and low-context conditions were used to show that both groups of old listeners derived more benefit from supportive context than did young listeners. In experiment 2, a working memory task [Daneman and Carpenter, J. Verb. Learn. Verb. Behav. 19, 450-466 (1980)] was added to the SPIN task for young and old adults. Specifically, after listening to and identifying the sentence-final words for a block of n sentences, the subjects were asked to recall the last n words that they had identified. Old subjects recalled fewer of the items they had perceived than did young subjects in all S/N conditions, even though there was no difference in the recall ability of the two age groups when sentences were read. Furthermore, the number of items recalled by both age groups was reduced in adverse S/N conditions. The resutls were interpreted as supporting a processing model in which reallocable processing resources are used to support auditory processing when listening becomes difficult either because of noise, or because of age-related deterioration in the auditory system. Because of this reallocation, these resources are unavailable to more central cognitive processes such as the storage and retrieval functions of working memory, so that "upstream" processing of auditory information is adversely affected.

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