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05-07-2020 | Original Article Open Access

Aging and working memory modulate the ability to benefit from visible speech and iconic gestures during speech-in-noise comprehension

Psychological Research
Louise Schubotz, Judith Holler, Linda Drijvers, Aslı Özyürek
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The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s00426-020-01363-8) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

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When comprehending speech-in-noise (SiN), younger and older adults benefit from seeing the speaker’s mouth, i.e. visible speech. Younger adults additionally benefit from manual iconic co-speech gestures. Here, we investigate to what extent younger and older adults benefit from perceiving both visual articulators while comprehending SiN, and whether this is modulated by working memory and inhibitory control. Twenty-eight younger and 28 older adults performed a word recognition task in three visual contexts: mouth blurred (speech-only), visible speech, or visible speech + iconic gesture. The speech signal was either clear or embedded in multitalker babble. Additionally, there were two visual-only conditions (visible speech, visible speech + gesture). Accuracy levels for both age groups were higher when both visual articulators were present compared to either one or none. However, older adults received a significantly smaller benefit than younger adults, although they performed equally well in speech-only and visual-only word recognition. Individual differences in verbal working memory and inhibitory control partly accounted for age-related performance differences. To conclude, perceiving iconic gestures in addition to visible speech improves younger and older adults’ comprehension of SiN. Yet, the ability to benefit from this additional visual information is modulated by age and verbal working memory. Future research will have to show whether these findings extend beyond the single word level.

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