Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Cognitive Implications of Facilitating Echoic Persistence

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Cognitive Implications of Facilitating Echoic Persistence

Article excerpt

Seventeen participants performed a tone-pattern-matching task at different presentation levels while concurrently engaged in a simulated-driving task. Presentation levels of 60, 65, and 70 dBC (SPL) were combined factorially with tone-matching delays of 2, 3, and 4 sec. Intensity had no effect on performance in single-task conditions and short-delay conditions. However, when the participants were engaged concurrently in the driving task, a significant interaction between presentation level and delay was observed. In the longest delay condition, the participants performed the tone-pattern-matching task more efficiently (more quickly and without additional errors) as presentation intensity increased. These findings demonstrate the interaction between sensory and cognitive processes and point to a direct-intensity relationship where intensity affects the persistence of echoic memory. Implications for facilitating auditory processing and improving auditory interfaces in complex systems (i.e., transportation environments), particularly for older and hearing-impaired listeners, are discussed.

Humans are frequently required to process speech and other complex auditory information while concurrently performing other tasks that can load working memory capacity and other processing resources. Although we routinely process speech with little apparent effort in frequent daily conversations, many factors can constrain the effectiveness of speech perception, including noise, other auditory distractors, and the requirement to perform other tasks simultaneously, both visual and auditory. New technologies (i.e., mobile phones and in-vehicle auditory route guidance systems) are also making speech and other auditory stimuli increasingly prevalent in work environments, at home, and in transportation. Because auditory stimuli must frequently be processed while humans are concurrently engaged in other tasks, such as driving, it is of interest to understand how auditory presentation intensity affects echoic persistence under dual-task conditions.

Intensity and other physical features of sounds can significantly affect how efficiently auditory stimuli are processed under dual-task conditions. For example, Baldwin and Struckman- Johnson (2002) demonstrated that the presentation amplitude of auditory information affects auditory processing even when amplitudes are within a clearly audible range -45-70 dB (SPL). When concurrently performing a sentence-processing and a simulated-driving task, the participants made more errors and took longer to respond as the presentation amplitude of the auditory task decreased from 55 to 45 dB (SPL). A similar decrement in auditory performance was observed when an auditory mental arithmetic task was combined with a simulated-driving task (Baldwin, 2001). The ability of the participants to perform mental calculations to numbers presented auditorily declined significantly in dual-task conditions as stimulus presentation intensity decreased from 65 to 60 dB. The participants hi both of Baldwin's investigations possessed normal hearing abilities. Persons with elevated hearing thresholds (e.g., older populations) may have even greater difficulty processing complex auditory information, particularly in dual-task situations. Hearing difficulties may become particularly evident in dual-task situations and may exacerbate or be mistaken for cognitive impairments (Baldwin, 2002; Schneider & Pichora-Fuller, 2000). Despite convincing evidence that increasing stimulus intensity in dual-task situations facilitates performance (Baldwin, 2001; Baldwin & STruckman-Johnson, 2002), the mechanism behind this performance enhancement is less clear.

Auditory processing requires sensory stimuli to be held temporarily until meaning can be assigned to the incoming information. Several information-processing models postulate that acoustic stimuli first enter a transient sensory buffer before being processed in short-term or working memory (Atkinson & Shinrin, 1968; Baddeley, 1992; Baddeley & Hitch, 1974; Norman & Bobrow, 1975; Waugh & Norman, 1 965). …

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