Does Audiovisual Speech Offer a Fountain of Youth for Old Ears? An Event-Related Brain Potential Study of Age Differences in Audiovisual Speech Perception
The current study addressed the question whether audiovisual (AV) speech can improve speech perception in older and younger adults in a noisy environment. Event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded to investigate age-related differences in the processes underlying AV speech perception. Participants performed an object categorization task in three conditions, namely auditory-only (A), visual-only (V), and AVspeech. Both age groups revealed an equivalent behavioral AVspeech benefit over unisensory trials. ERP analyses revealed an amplitude reduction of the auditory P1 and N1 on AVspeech trials relative to the summed unisensory (A + V) response in both age groups. These amplitude reductions are interpreted as an indication of multisensory efficiency as fewer neural resources were recruited to achieve better performance. Of interest, the observed P1 amplitude reduction was larger in older adults. Younger and older adults also showed an earlier auditory N1 in AVspeech relative to A and A + V trials, an effect that was again greater in the older adults. The degree of multisensory latency shift was predicted by basic auditory functioning (i.e., higher hearing thresholds were associated with larger latency shifts) in both age groups. Together, the results show that AV speech processing is not only intact in older adults, but that the facilitation of neural responses occurs earlier in and to a greater extent than in younger adults. Thus, older adults appear to benefit more from additional visual speech cues than younger adults, possibly to compensate for more impoverished unisensory inputs because of sensory aging.
from Psychology and Aging