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Masked Sentence Recognition in Children, Young Adults, and Older Adults

Age-Dependent Effects of Semantic Context and Masker Type

Buss, Emily1; Hodge, Sarah E.1; Calandruccio, Lauren2; Leibold, Lori J.3; Grose, John H.1

doi: 10.1097/AUD.0000000000000692
Research Articles

Objectives: Masked speech recognition in normal-hearing listeners depends in part on masker type and semantic context of the target. Children and older adults are more susceptible to masking than young adults, particularly when the masker is speech. Semantic context has been shown to facilitate noise-masked sentence recognition in all age groups, but it is not known whether age affects a listener’s ability to use context with a speech masker. The purpose of the present study was to evaluate the effect of masker type and semantic context of the target as a function of listener age.

Design: Listeners were children (5 to 16 years), young adults (19 to 30 years), and older adults (67 to 81 years), all with normal or near-normal hearing. Maskers were either speech-shaped noise or two-talker speech, and targets were either semantically correct (high context) sentences or semantically anomalous (low context) sentences.

Results: As predicted, speech reception thresholds were lower for young adults than either children or older adults. Age effects were larger for the two-talker masker than the speech-shaped noise masker, and the effect of masker type was larger in children than older adults. Performance tended to be better for targets with high than low semantic context, but this benefit depended on age group and masker type. In contrast to adults, children benefitted less from context in the two-talker speech masker than the speech-shaped noise masker. Context effects were small compared with differences across age and masker type.

Conclusions: Different effects of masker type and target context are observed at different points across the lifespan. While the two-talker masker is particularly challenging for children and older adults, the speech masker may limit the use of semantic context in children but not adults.

1Department of Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA

2Department of Psychological Sciences, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, USA

3Center for Hearing Research, Boys Town National Research Hospital, Omaha, Nebraska, USA.

Received October 19, 2017; accepted November 5, 2018.

The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.

Address for correspondence: Emily Buss, Department of Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery, University of North Carolina, 170 Manning Drive, CB 7070, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA. E-mail:

Online date: December 28, 2018

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