This research program in speech perception and auditory psychophysics examines the hypothesis that many of the predominant difficulties in speech understanding of elderly listeners are related to underlying problems in auditory temporal processing.  One form of degraded speech that is particularly difficult for elderly listeners to perceive is accented English.  Alterations of speech stress and timing with accent may be viewed as a form of degradation in temporal aspects of speech prosody, and this type of temporal distortion is the focus of investigation in the next project period.  Moreover, psychoacoustic results demonstrate that large age-related difficulties in temporal processing exist for the perception of auditory tempo and rhythmic characteristics of sequential stimulus patterns featuring a stressed tone.  Listener processing difficulty could be attributed to peripheral and/or central processing mechanisms, as well as various cognitive factors, including the degree of familiarity with prosodic features of different native languages.  The project examines the relative contribution of peripheral hearing impairment, type of stimulus temporal complexity and cognitive demand, and the linguistic background experience of listeners on the processing of temporal prosody cues in speech and non-speech stimulus patterns. The investigation also evaluates the efficacy of training strategies to improve understanding of accented English by older people.  Outcomes of this research are expected to improve communication between senior citizens and those with whom they interact daily, and thereby improve quality of life for the older segment of the Nation’s population.

Principal Investigator
Graduate Researchers
Project Sponsor
Natiional Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health