Listening Effort in Younger and Older Adults: A Comparison of Auditory-Only and Auditory-Visual Presentations

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One goal of the present study was to establish whether providing younger and older adults with visual speech information (both seeing and hearing a talker compared with listening alone) would reduce listening effort for understanding speech in noise. In addition, we used an individual differences approach to assess whether changes in listening effort were related to changes in visual enhancement—the improvement in speech understanding in going from an auditory-only (A-only) to an auditory-visual condition (AV) condition. To compare word recognition in A-only and AV modalities, younger and older adults identified words in both A-only and AV conditions in the presence of six-talker babble. Listening effort was assessed using a modified version of a serial recall task. Participants heard (A-only) or saw and heard (AV) a talker producing individual words without background noise. List presentation was stopped randomly and participants were then asked to repeat the last three words that were presented. Listening effort was assessed using recall performance in the two- and three-back positions. Younger, but not older, adults exhibited reduced listening effort as indexed by greater recall in the two- and three-back positions for the AV compared with the A-only presentations. For younger, but not older adults, changes in performance from the A-only to the AV condition were moderately correlated with visual enhancement. Results are discussed within a limited-resource model of both A-only and AV speech perception.

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