Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Comparing Lexically Guided Perceptual Learning in Younger and Older Listeners

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Comparing Lexically Guided Perceptual Learning in Younger and Older Listeners

Article excerpt

Published online: 25 January 2013

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Abstract Numerous studies have shown that younger adults engage in lexically guided perceptual learning in speech perception. Here, we investigated whether older listeners are also able to retune their phonetic category boundaries. More specifically, in this research we tried to answer two questions. First, do older adults show perceptual-learning effects of similar size to those of younger adults? Second, do differences in lexical behavior predict the strength of the perceptual-learning effect? An age group comparison revealed that older listeners do engage in lexically guided perceptual learning, but there were two age-related differences: Younger listeners had a stronger learning effect right after exposure than did older listeners, but the effect was more stable for older than for younger listeners. Moreover, a clear link was shown to exist between individuals' lexical-decision performance during exposme and the magnitude of their perceptual-learning effects. A subsequent analysis on the results of the older participants revealed that, even within the older participant group, with increasing age the perceptual retuning effect became smaller but also more stable, mirroring the age group comparison results. These results could not be explained by differences in hearing loss. The age effect may be accounted for by decreased flexibility in the adjustment of phoneme categories or by age-related changes in the dynamics of spoken-word recognition, with older adults being more affected by competition from similar-sounding lexical competitors, resulting in less lexical guidance for perceptual retiming. In conclusion, oin results clearly show that the speech perception system remains flexible over the life span.

Keywords Perceptual learning Speechperception Aging · Individual differences

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Numerous studies have shown that "ideal" listeners-that is, young, normal-hearing, highly educated listeners-can adapt to idiosyncratic pronunciations through lexically guid- ed perceptual learning in speech perception (McQueen, Cutler, & Norris, 2006; Norris, McQueen, & Cutler, 2003; for an overview, see Samuel & Kraljic, 2009), and are thus able to tune in to a speaker to understand him or her better. The lexically guided perceptual learning effect has been shown using a variety of exposme and test paradigms-for instance, lexical decision and phonetic categorization (e.g., Norris et al., 2003), short story presentation and phonetic categorization (e.g., Eisner & McQueen, 2006), and a pic- ture verification procedine (e.g., McQueen, Tyler, & Cutler, 2012). In the exposme phase, listeners are exposed to an idiosyncratic sound-for instance, a sound ambiguous be- tween [s] and [f] (/f/s/), which would be learned as /s/ if it was heard in words such as platypus (because platypus is an existing word in English, whereas platypuf is not), but as If/ in words such as giraffe (which is an existing word in English, whereas giras is not). This perceptual-learning effect is caused by a temporary change in phonetic category representations, rather than by changes in decision bias (Clarke-Davidson, Luce, & Sawusch, 2008). Perceptual learning has been found for tones (Mitterer, Chen, & Zhou, 2011) and for different types of sounds-for instance, stops, which differ in voice onset times (/t/ vs. /d/: Kraljic & Samuel, 2007); fricatives, which differ in noise spectra (/s/ vs. / /: Kraljic & Samuel, 2005, 2007; /s/ vs. /I/: Eisner & McQueen, 2006; McQueen et al., 2006; Norris et al., 2003; Sjerps & McQueen, 2010); liquids, which differ in liquid spectra (/l/ vs. /r/: Scharenborg, Mitterer, & McQueen, 2011); and vowels (McQueen & Mitterer, 2005).

But what about less "ideal" listeners? Are other listener groups besides university students-for instance, young children and older listeners-also capable of perceptual learning? …

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