Age-Related Changes in the Perception of Emotions in Speech: Assessing Thresholds of Prosody and Semantics Recognition in Noise for Young and Older Adults

Yehuda I. Dor, Daniel Algom, Vered Shakuf, Boaz M. Ben-David

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Older adults process emotions in speech differently than do young adults. However, it is unclear whether these age-related changes impact all speech channels to the same extent, and whether they originate from a sensory or a cognitive source. The current study adopted a psychophysical approach to directly compare young and older adults’ sensory thresholds for emotion recognition in two channels of spoken-emotions: prosody (tone) and semantics (words). A total of 29 young adults and 26 older adults listened to 50 spoken sentences presenting different combinations of emotions across prosody and semantics. They were asked to recognize the prosodic or semantic emotion, in separate tasks. Sentences were presented on the background of speech-spectrum noise ranging from SNR of −15 dB (difficult) to +5 dB (easy). Individual recognition thresholds were calculated (by fitting psychometric functions) separately for prosodic and semantic recognition. Results indicated that: (1). recognition thresholds were better for young over older adults, suggesting an age-related general decrease across channels; (2). recognition thresholds were better for prosody over semantics, suggesting a prosodic advantage; (3). importantly, the prosodic advantage in thresholds did not differ between age groups (thus a sensory source for age-related differences in spoken-emotions processing was not supported); and (4). larger failures of selective attention were found for older adults than for young adults, indicating that older adults experienced larger difficulties in inhibiting irrelevant information. Taken together, results do not support a sole sensory source, but rather an interplay of cognitive and sensory sources for age-related differences in spoken-emotions processing.

Original languageEnglish
Article number846117
JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
Volume16
DOIs
StatePublished - 25 Apr 2022

Keywords

  • aging
  • auditory processing
  • auditory sensory-cognitive interactions
  • emotions
  • noise
  • prosody
  • semantics
  • speech perception

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