Children’s Recognition of Emotional Prosody in Spectrally Degraded Speech Is Predicted by Their Age and Cognitive Status

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Abstract

Objectives:

It is known that school-aged children with cochlear implants show deficits in voice emotion recognition relative to normal-hearing peers. Little, however, is known about normal-hearing children’s processing of emotional cues in cochlear implant–simulated, spectrally degraded speech. The objective of this study was to investigate school-aged, normal-hearing children’s recognition of voice emotion, and the degree to which their performance could be predicted by their age, vocabulary, and cognitive factors such as nonverbal intelligence and executive function.

Design:

Normal-hearing children (6–19 years old) and young adults were tested on a voice emotion recognition task under three different conditions of spectral degradation using cochlear implant simulations (full-spectrum, 16-channel, and 8-channel noise-vocoded speech). Measures of vocabulary, nonverbal intelligence, and executive function were obtained as well.

Results:

Adults outperformed children on all tasks, and a strong developmental effect was observed. The children’s age, the degree of spectral resolution, and nonverbal intelligence were predictors of performance, but vocabulary and executive functions were not, and no interactions were observed between age and spectral resolution.

Conclusions:

These results indicate that cognitive function and age play important roles in children’s ability to process emotional prosody in spectrally degraded speech. The lack of an interaction between the degree of spectral resolution and children’s age further suggests that younger and older children may benefit similarly from improvements in spectral resolution. The findings imply that younger and older children with cochlear implants may benefit similarly from technical advances that improve spectral resolution.

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