Effects of Age, Acoustic Challenge, and Verbal Working Memory on Recall of Narrative Speech

Caitlin M. Ward, Chad S. Rogers, Kristin J. Van Engen, Jonathan E. Peelle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

18 Scopus citations


A common goal during speech comprehension is to remember what we have heard. Encoding speech into long-term memory frequently requires processes such as verbal working memory that may also be involved in processing degraded speech. Here the authors tested whether young and older adult listeners memory for short stories was worse when the stories were acoustically degraded, or whether the additional contextual support provided by a narrative would protect against these effects. Methods: The authors tested 30 young adults (aged 18-28 years) and 30 older adults (aged 65-79 years) with good self-reported hearing. Participants heard short stories that were presented as normal (unprocessed) speech or acoustically degraded using a noise vocoding algorithm with 24 or 16 channels. The degraded stories were still fully intelligible. Following each story, participants were asked to repeat the story in as much detail as possible. Recall was scored using a modified idea unit scoring approach, which included separately scoring hierarchical levels of narrative detail.Results: Memory for acoustically degraded stories was significantly worse than for normal stories at some levels of narrative detail. Older adults memory for the stories was significantly worse overall, but there was no interaction between age and acoustic clarity or level of narrative detail. Verbal working memory (assessed by reading span) significantly correlated with recall accuracy for both young and older adults, whereas hearing ability (better ear pure tone average) did not.Conclusion: The present findings are consistent with a framework in which the additional cognitive demands caused by a degraded acoustic signal use resources that would otherwise be available for memory encoding for both young and older adults. Verbal working memory is a likely candidate for supporting both of these processes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)126-144
Number of pages19
JournalExperimental Aging Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016

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