Cognitive Load and Listening Effort: Concepts and Age-Related Considerations

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Listening effort has been recognized as an important dimension of everyday listening, especially with regard to the comprehension of spoken language. At constant levels of comprehension performance, the level of effort exerted and perceived during listening can differ considerably across listeners and situations. In this article, listening effort is used as an umbrella term for two different types of effort that can arise during listening. One of these types is processing effort, which is used to denote the utilization of “extra” mental processing resources in listening conditions that are adverse for an individual. A conceptual description is introduced how processing effort could be defined in terms of situational influences, the listener’s auditory and cognitive resources, and the listener’s personal state. Also, the proposed relationship between processing effort and subjectively perceived listening effort is discussed. Notably, previous research has shown that the availability of mental resources, as well as the ability to use them efficiently, changes over the course of adult aging. These common age-related changes in cognitive abilities and their neurocognitive organization are discussed in the context of the presented concept, especially regarding situations in which listening effort may be increased for older people.

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