Skin conductance responses to emotional speech in hearing-impaired and hearing-aided listeners
Age-related hearing loss negatively impacts the perception of speech, and while hearing aids can ameliorate these deficits somewhat, questions remain about their ability to support the perception of emotion. In normal hearing adults, characteristic skin conductance responses (SCR) are triggered in response to emotional speech. The current study assessed the extent to which SCRs vary across normal-hearing, hearing-impaired, and hearing-aided older adults. Participants were presented with audio-only samples of linguistically neutral sentences spoken in a happy, sad, angry, or calm manner, and were asked to respond with the expressed emotion. Normal hearing participants were both faster and more accurate in their responses than the hearing-impaired or hearing-aided participants. Normal-hearing participants exhibited an increase in skin conductance in response to negatively-valenced and high-arousal stimuli (i.e., angry, and to some extent happy and sad). This increase was not present in hearing-impaired participants but was recovered in hearing-aided participants. These findings raise important questions about the efficacy of signal processing strategies employed in modern digital hearing aids.
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