Influence of a secondary task on the understanding of continuous discourse by younger and older adults

Dana R. Murphy, Meredyth Daneman, Bruce A. Schneider


Schneider, Daneman, Murphy, and Kwong See (1998) showed that when sound levels were adjusted to compensate for individual differences in hearing, the ability of both younger and older adults to answer questions based on connected discourse was nearly equivalent at all levels of noise. In the absence of such adjustments, older adults answered fewer questions correctly than younger adults. These two results suggest that poorer hearing, rather than a decline in cognitive processing, is the reason why older adults are less able to recall information from connected discourse. However, in the previous study, the participants were able to focus their attention on the connected discourse. In everyday listening situations, we often have to divide our attention between two different tasks. Thus, it is possible that age-related difference in performance would emerge in a divided attention situation even after stimulus levels had been adjusted for individual differences in hearing. In two experiments we tested younger and older adults' ability to extract and remember information from connected discourse in the presence of a distracting secondary task.


Acoustic intensity; Audition; Cognitive processing

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