The influence of educational attainment on the relationship between auditory and visual inhibition measures and speech-in-noise perception
Inhibition––the ability to suppress goal-irrelevant information––is thought to be an important cognitive skill in many situations, including speech-in-noise (SiN) listening [1;2]. It is also suggested to worsen with age . Researchers have therefore begun to investigate the ability of age-related inhibitory declines to account for the difficulties older listeners have in noisy environments.
Inhibition is often assessed using Stroop-type tasks, in which one stimulus dimension must be named while a second, more prepotent dimension is ignored. The to-be-ignored dimension may be relevant or irrelevant, and inhibition scores are traditionally derived from the reaction time difference between relevant and irrelevant conditions. Both visual and auditory Stroop tasks are used, but individual studies typically employ only one type––although equivalence between Stroop tasks in different domains cannot be assumed .
Some studies show a clear relationship between Stroop scores and SiN performance ; others do not . One possible influencing factor is educational attainment. Older adults with higher educational attainment perform better on Stroop tasks, perhaps because education partially compensates for cognitive decline; this suggests that the predicted Stroop/SiN relationship may not be observed for this group.
In this study, 50 older adults (ages=61-86, mean=70; age-normal hearing) performed two Stroop tasks (visual and auditory) and two SiN tasks (with targets either isolated words or words in low- and high-predictability sentences, presented in speech-modulated noise at two signal-to-noise ratios). Individual measures of hearing (PTA0.25-8kHz) and educational attainment were obtained.
Results showed a clear effect of education on the relationship between visual Stroop and SiN scores, with the predicted relationship observed only for listeners with lower educational attainment. The auditory Stroop results were less clear-cut, with complex interactions between multiple variables.
These findings suggest that educational attainment modulates the role of cognition in SiN perception.
Funding — Supported by BBSRC grant BB/K021508/1.
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