The present study investigated presentation modality differences in lexical encoding and working memory representations of spoken words of older, hearing-impaired adults. Two experiments were undertaken: a memory-scanning experiment and a stimulus gating experiment. The primary objective of experiment 1 was to determine whether memory encoding and retrieval and scanning speeds are different for easily identifiable words presented in auditory-visual (AV), auditory-only (AO), and visual-only (VO) modalities. The primary objective of experiment 2 was to determine if memory encoding and retrieval speed differences observed in experiment 1 could be attributed to the early availability of AV speech information compared with AO or VO conditions.
Twenty-six adults over age 60 years with bilateral mild to moderate sensorineural hearing loss participated in experiment 1, and 24 adults who took part in experiment 1 participated in experiment 2. An item recognition reaction-time paradigm (memory-scanning) was used in experiment 1 to measure (1) lexical encoding speed, that is, the speed at which an easily identifiable word was recognized and placed into working memory, and (2) retrieval speed, that is, the speed at which words were retrieved from memory and compared with similarly encoded words (memory scanning) presented in AV, AO, and VO modalities. Experiment 2 used a time-gated word identification task to test whether the time course of stimulus information available to participants predicted the modality-related memory encoding and retrieval speed results from experiment 1.
The results of experiment 1 revealed significant differences among the modalities with respect to both memory encoding and retrieval speed, with AV fastest and VO slowest. These differences motivated an examination of the time course of stimulus information available as a function of modality. Results from experiment 2 indicated the encoding and retrieval speed advantages for AV and AO words compared with VO words were mostly driven by the time course of stimulus information. The AV advantage seen in encoding and retrieval speeds is likely due to a combination of robust stimulus information available to the listener earlier in time and lower attentional demands compared with AO or VO encoding and retrieval.
Significant modality differences in lexical encoding and memory retrieval speeds were observed across modalities. The memory scanning speed advantage observed for AV compared with AO or VO modalities was strongly related to the time course of stimulus information. In contrast, lexical encoding and retrieval speeds for VO words could not be explained by the time-course of stimulus information alone. Working memory processes for the VO modality may be impacted by greater attentional demands and less information availability compared with the AV and AO modalities. Overall, these results support the hypothesis that the presentation modality for speech inputs (AV, AO, or VO) affects how older adult listeners with hearing loss encode, remember, and retrieve what they hear.