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Poster A9, Wednesday, November 8, 10:30 – 11:45 am, Harborview and Loch Raven Ballrooms

Auditory attention and predictive processing co-modulate speech comprehension in middle-aged adults

Sarah Tune1, Malte Wöstmann1, Jonas Obleser1;1University of Lübeck, Germany

In real-life communication, speech comprehension requires the dynamic engagement of a complex set of perceptual, executive control and prediction processes. This challenge becomes exacerbated by the gradual declines in sensory acuity and cognitive functioning that are typically associated with healthy aging starting in middle adulthood. Here, we present results from a study focused on healthy middle-aged human adults (40-70y) who performed a novel dichotic listening task. The paradigm called for adaptive control of cognitive strategies by varying the degree to which auditory spatial attention and predictive processing support comprehension. Participants were presented with two competing, dichotically presented speech streams uttered by the same female speaker. Participants were probed on the last word in one of the two streams. Crucially, auditory presentation was preceded by two visual cues. First, a spatial-attention cue either indicated the to-be-probed side, thus invoking selective attention, or it did not provide any information about the to-be-probed side, thus invoking divided attention. The second cue specified a general or a specific semantic category for the target word (and was valid for both utterances). This semantic cue therefore facilitated semantic and sensory prediction of the upcoming input. Behavioral results (n=29) show a general increase in performance for informative compared to uninformative cues. Participants responded faster in selective attention trials and following a specific semantic cue. Accuracy was co-modulated by the joint effect of both cues, as reflected by a benefit from specific (vs. general) semantic cues but only under selective auditory attention. Moreover, reliance on the spatial-attention cue varied with age: Older adults performed better under selective attention and worse under divided attention than younger adults. Analysis of electroencephalography (EEG) data (n=16) revealed a lateralization of 8–12Hz alpha power during spatial attention cue presentation, but also and even more pronounced during the dichotic speech streams in selective-attention but not in divided-attention trials. Specificity of the semantic cue on the other hand modulated oscillatory power in the beta frequency band (15–30Hz), with a decrease in power for specific cues. In sum, our results provide evidence for the interplay of attentional control and predictive processes in difficult listening situations. Crucially, providing two distinct types of cues prompted changes in behavioural performance correlated with qualitatively different neural signatures, and highlights changes in cognitive strategies with age.

Topic Area: Control, Selection, and Executive Processes

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