Cross-modal enhancement of speech detection in young and older adults: Does signal content matter?

Nancy Tye-Murray, Brent Spehar, Joel Myerson, Mitchell S. Sommers, Sandra Hale

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Objective: The purpose of the present study was to examine the effects of age and visual content on cross-modal enhancement of auditory speech detection. Visual content consisted of three clearly distinct types of visual information: an unaltered video clip of a talker's face, a low-contrast version of the same clip, and a mouth-like Lissajous figure. It was hypothesized that both young and older adults would exhibit reduced enhancement as visual content diverged from the original clip of the talker's face, but that the decrease would be greater for older participants. Design: Nineteen young adults and 19 older adults were asked to detect a single spoken syllable (/ba/) in speech-shaped noise, and the level of the signal was adaptively varied to establish the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) at threshold. There was an auditory-only baseline condition and three audiovisual conditions in which the syllable was accompanied by one of the three visual signals (the unaltered clip of the talker's face, the low-contrast version of that clip, or the Lissajous figure). For each audiovisual condition, the SNR at threshold was compared with the SNR at threshold for the auditory-only condition to measure the amount of cross-modal enhancement. Results: Young adults exhibited significant cross-modal enhancement with all three types of visual stimuli, with the greatest amount of enhancement observed for the unaltered clip of the talker's face. Older adults, in contrast, exhibited significant cross-modal enhancement only with the unaltered face. Conclusions: Results of this study suggest that visual signal content affects cross-modal enhancement of speech detection in both young and older adults. They also support a hypothesized age-related deficit in processing low-contrast visual speech stimuli, even in older adults with normal contrast sensitivity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)650-655
Number of pages6
JournalEar and hearing
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2011


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