Date of Award

Spring 5-2018

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Master of Arts (AM/MA)

Degree Type



A consistent finding in the literature (Benichov, Cox, Tun, & Wingfield, 2012; Dubno, Ahlstrom, & Horwitz, 2000; Hutchinson, 1989; Nittrouer & Boothroyd, 1990; Pichora-Fuller, Schneider & Daneman, 1995; Rogers, Jacoby, & Sommers, 2012; Sommers & Danielson, 1999; Wingfield, Aberdeen, & Stine, 1991) is that spoken word identification improves for both older and younger adults following the addition of a meaningful semantic context, but the improvements are typically greater for older adults. However, more recent findings (Jacoby, Rogers, Bishara, & Shimizu, 2012; Rogers, Jacoby, & Sommers, 2012) suggest that, especially under less favorable perceptual conditions, the increased benefits of semantic context for older compared with younger adults may reflect increased reliance on context as a basis for responding, rather than improved ability to use contextual information. This increased reliance on context makes older adults prone to context-based misperceptions – termed false hearing – when context is misleading. Although increased reliance on context by older adults has been described as a strategy for “filling in the blanks” caused by age-related declines in hearing acuity, few researchers have investigated the relationship between reliance on context and age-related changes in cognitive abilities. The present study examined the effects of working memory capacity, processing speed, and inhibitory control on veridical and false hearing in older and younger adults. We found that poor inhibitory control was related to increased susceptibility to false hearing among both older and younger adults. For older adults, slower processing speed was also related to increased susceptibility to false hearing, whereas higher working memory capacity and preserved inhibitory control corresponded to more accurate speech perception in the presence of misleading context. We propose that older adults’ reliance on context may reflect a change in the relative weights assigned to contextual and sensory information during perception, wherein available contextual cues receive greater weight than sensory information. This reweighing of perceptual information may occur due to a combination of age-related hearing loss, which increases listening effort, and cognitive decline, which limits the resources available for effortful listening.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Mitchell Sommers

Committee Members

David Balota, Ian Dobbins, Kristin Van Engen


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