The purpose of the present study was to quantify age-related differences in executive control as it relates to dual-task performance, which is thought to represent listening effort, during degraded speech recognition.
Twenty-five younger adults (YA; 18–24 years) and 21 older adults (OA; 56–82 years) completed a dual-task paradigm that consisted of a primary speech recognition task and a secondary visual monitoring task. Sentence material in the primary task was either unprocessed or spectrally degraded into 8, 6, or 4 spectral channels using noise-band vocoding. Performance on the visual monitoring task was assessed by the accuracy and reaction time of participants’ responses. Performance on the primary and secondary task was quantified in isolation (i.e., single task) and during the dual-task paradigm. Participants also completed a standardized psychometric measure of executive control, including attention and inhibition. Statistical analyses were implemented to evaluate changes in listeners’ performance on the primary and secondary tasks (1) per condition (unprocessed vs. vocoded conditions); (2) per task (single task vs. dual task); and (3) per group (YA vs. OA).
Speech recognition declined with increasing spectral degradation for both YA and OA when they performed the task in isolation or concurrently with the visual monitoring task. OA were slower and less accurate than YA on the visual monitoring task when performed in isolation, which paralleled age-related differences in standardized scores of executive control. When compared with single-task performance, OA experienced greater declines in secondary-task accuracy, but not reaction time, than YA. Furthermore, results revealed that age-related differences in executive control significantly contributed to age-related differences on the visual monitoring task during the dual-task paradigm.
OA experienced significantly greater declines in secondary-task accuracy during degraded speech recognition than YA. These findings are interpreted as suggesting that OA expended greater listening effort than YA, which may be partially attributed to age-related differences in executive control.