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


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
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2019.


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

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Speech and Hearing
  • Otorhinolaryngology


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