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Speech rate effects on the processing of conversational speech across the adult life span

Koch, X., & Janse, E. (2016). Speech rate effects on the processing of conversational speech across the adult life span. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 139(4), 1618-1636. doi:10.1121/1.4944032.
This study investigates the effect of speech rate on spoken word recognition across the adult life span. Contrary to previous studies, conversational materials with a natural variation in speech rate were used rather than lab-recorded stimuli that are subsequently artificially time-compressed. It was investigated whether older adults' speech recognition is more adversely affected by increased speech rate compared to younger and middle-aged adults, and which individual listener characteristics (e.g., hearing, fluid cognitive processing ability) predict the size of the speech rate effect on recognition performance. In an eye-tracking experiment, participants indicated with a mouse-click which visually presented words they recognized in a conversational fragment. Click response times, gaze, and pupil size data were analyzed. As expected, click response times and gaze behavior were affected by speech rate, indicating that word recognition is more difficult if speech rate is faster. Contrary to earlier findings, increased speech rate affected the age groups to the same extent. Fluid cognitive processing ability predicted general recognition performance, but did not modulate the speech rate effect. These findings emphasize that earlier results of age by speech rate interactions mainly obtained with artificially speeded materials may not generalize to speech rate variation as encountered in conversational speech.
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The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

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