Semantic processing of spoken words under cognitive load in older listeners

Schmidt, J., Scharenborg, O., & Janse, E. (2015). Semantic processing of spoken words under cognitive load in older listeners. In M. Wolters, J. Livingstone, B. Beattie, R. Smith, M. MacMahon, J. Stuart-Smith, & J. Scobbie (Eds.), Proceedings of the 18th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences (ICPhS 2015). London: International Phonetic Association.
Processing of semantic information in language comprehension has been suggested to be modulated by attentional resources. Consequently, cognitive load would be expected to reduce semantic priming, but studies have yielded inconsistent results. This study investigated whether cognitive load affects semantic activation in speech processing in older adults, and whether this is modulated by individual differences in cognitive and hearing abilities. Older adults participated in an auditory continuous lexical decision task in a low-load and high-load condition. The group analysis showed only a marginally significant reduction of semantic priming in the high-load condition compared to the low-load condition. The individual differences analysis showed that semantic priming was significantly reduced under increased load in participants with poorer attention-switching control. Hence, a resource-demanding secondary task may affect the integration of spoken words into a coherent semantic representation for listeners with poorer attentional skills.
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