Differences in Working Memory Capacity Affect Online Spoken Word Recognition: Evidence From Eye Movements

Gal Nitsan, Arthur Wingfield, Limor Lavie, Boaz M. Ben-David

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Individual differences in working memory capacity have been gaining recognition as playing an important role in speech comprehension, especially in noisy environments. Using the visual world eye-tracking paradigm, a recent study by Hadar and coworkers found that online spoken word recognition was slowed when listeners were required to retain in memory a list of four spoken digits (high load) compared with only one (low load). In the current study, we recognized that the influence of a digit preload might be greater for individuals who have a more limited memory span. We compared participants with higher and lower memory spans on the time course for spoken word recognition by testing eye-fixations on a named object, relative to fixations on an object whose name shared phonology with the named object. Results show that when a low load was imposed, differences in memory span had no effect on the time course of preferential fixations. However, with a high load, listeners with lower span were delayed by ∼550 ms in discriminating target from sound-sharing competitors, relative to higher span listeners. This follows an assumption that the interference effect of a memory preload is not a fixed value, but rather, its effect is greater for individuals with a smaller memory span. Interestingly, span differences affected the timeline for spoken word recognition in noise, but not offline accuracy. This highlights the significance of using eye-tracking as a measure for online speech processing. Results further emphasize the importance of considering differences in cognitive capacity, even when testing normal hearing young adults.

Original languageEnglish
JournalTrends in hearing
Volume23
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2019.

Keywords

  • eye-tracking
  • online processing
  • visual world paradigm
  • word recognition
  • working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Speech and Hearing
  • Otorhinolaryngology

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