Speech perception poses two difficult problems for listeners. First, the acoustic signal is variable and context dependent, making phoneme identification difficult. Second, it unfolds over time and at early points in a word there may not e sufficient information to identify it.
This research aims to understand how listeners solve both problems, how these problems relate to each other, and to use this to understand two groups of impaired listeners: listeners with Language Impairment (LI) and listeners who use Cochlear Implants (CIs). Project 1 asks how listeners compensate for variation due to talker and phonetic context, and how compensation interacts with unfolding competition between candidate words that listeners momentarily consider during word recognition. It employs event related potentials to assess whether compensation occurs at the level of auditory encoding or during later categorical processes. It also uses eye-tracking to examine moment-by-moment activation of lexical competitors (how strongly listeners consider multiple words in parallel), asking when acoustic cues and compensation processes impact lexical processing. Finally, it examines CI users whose difficulty identifying talkers may inhibit their compensation abilities. This may lead to better processing strategies, device configurations and therapies. Project 2 examines how listeners represent the order of information in a word (e.g., how they distinguish anadromes like cat and tack). Most models use the serial order of the phonemes to exclude anadrome competitors. However, recent data indicate that listeners do not completely rule out anadromes, suggesting that order is not explicitly represented. Project 2 uses eye-tracking and visual world paradigm with known words and small artificial languages to determine whether listeners use fine-grained acoustic detail (differences in how a phoneme is pronounced in syllable-initial and final positions) as a proxy for order. It also examines listeners with LI, who may have deficits with both fine-grained auditory detail and serial order;and CI users who lack access to fine-grained spectral detail. This will assess theories of language impairment that emphasis auditory or sequencing deficits as the source of LI. It will also help us understand the variability in outcomes among CI users and further refine our understanding of what acoustic information must be transmitted by the CI. Project 3 asks how long lexical competitors remain active during word recognition. The prior grant discovered that listeners with LI do not fully suppress lexical competitors during word recognition. Project 3 develops an eye-tracking paradigm to assess how long competitors are active, and to ask what mechanisms maintain it, examining inhibition between words, echoic memory and phonological short-term memory. It ex- amines listeners with LI and CI users to determine the consequences of this heightened competition, how it relates to other language processes, and the locus of the impairment. Across all three projects, this proposal aims to better characterize the underlying mechanisms of speech perception in normal listeners with the goal of using this characterization to better understand the unique problems faced by impaired listeners.

Public Health Relevance

Language impairment affects as many as 8% of children, and cochlear implants have become common as a treatment for hearing impairment, yet we still do not understand the nature of language impairment or the reasons for the substantial variability in outcomes among CI users. By examining the basic mechanisms that underlie listeners'ability to quickly and accurately recognize spoken words from a highly variable and time-dependent auditory signal, this project aims to characterize the deficits of both groups in terms of differences in underlying processing. This should lead to better diagnosis and therapies for both groups and better device configuration and processing strategies for CI users.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)
Research Project (R01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-BBBP-T (02))
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Cooper, Judith
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University of Iowa
Schools of Arts and Sciences
Iowa City
United States
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Rhone, Ariane E; Nourski, Kirill V; Oya, Hiroyuki et al. (2016) Can you hear me yet? An intracranial investigation of speech and non-speech audiovisual interactions in human cortex. Lang Cogn Neurosci 31:284-302
McMurray, Bob; Jongman, Allard (2016) What Comes After /f/? Prediction in Speech Derives From Data-Explanatory Processes. Psychol Sci 27:43-52
Kapnoula, Efthymia C; McMurray, Bob (2016) Newly learned word forms are abstract and integrated immediately after acquisition. Psychon Bull Rev 23:491-9
Roembke, Tanja; McMurray, Bob (2016) Observational Word Learning: Beyond Propose-But-Verify and Associative Bean Counting. J Mem Lang 87:105-127
Kapnoula, Efthymia C; McMurray, Bob (2016) Training alters the resolution of lexical interference: Evidence for plasticity of competition and inhibition. J Exp Psychol Gen 145:8-30
McMurray, Bob; Farris-Trimble, Ashley; Seedorff, Michael et al. (2016) The Effect of Residual Acoustic Hearing and Adaptation to Uncertainty on Speech Perception in Cochlear Implant Users: Evidence From Eye-Tracking. Ear Hear 37:e37-51
McMurray, Bob (2016) Language at Three Timescales: The Role of Real-Time Processes in Language Development and Evolution. Top Cogn Sci 8:393-407
Toscano, Joseph C; McMurray, Bob (2015) The time-course of speaking rate compensation: Effects of sentential rate and vowel length on voicing judgments. Lang Cogn Neurosci 30:529-543
Galle, Marcus E; Apfelbaum, Keith S; McMurray, Bob (2015) The Role of Single Talker Acoustic Variation in Early Word Learning. Lang Learn Dev 11:66-79
Nourski, Kirill V; Steinschneider, Mitchell; Rhone, Ariane E et al. (2015) Sound identification in human auditory cortex: Differential contribution of local field potentials and high gamma power as revealed by direct intracranial recordings. Brain Lang 148:37-50

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