Cynthia A. Yonan
Mitchell S. Sommers
Dept. of Psych., Washington Univ., St. Louis, MO 63130
Recent evidence has demonstrated that young adults achieve improved spoken word recognition performance when words are produced by familiar, as compared to unfamiliar, voices [Nygaard et al., Psych. Sci. 5, 42--45 (1994)]. This benefit for familiar voices is hypothesized to be a result of reduced perceptual normalization demands when listeners have previous knowledge of source characteristics. The present study investigated whether normal-hearing older listeners exhibit a similar improvement for familiar voices. Younger and older volunteers were trained to discriminate four voices and were then tested on a perceptual identification task with familiar and unfamiliar voices. Although voice discrimination did not differ as a function of age, only the older participants exhibited improved word recognition performance for familiar talkers. Word recognition performance was also examined separately for words at two levels of lexical difficulty: (1) words that are phonetically distinct from others (easy words), and (2) words that are phonetically similar to others (hard words). The largest benefit of voice familiarity was observed for older listeners identifying lexically hard words. The implications of these findings for age differences in the use of voice information will be discussed.