Brain and cognition

Switching of auditory attention in "cocktail-party" listening: ERP evidence of cueing effects in younger and older adults.

PMID 27814564


Verbal communication in a "cocktail-party situation" is a major challenge for the auditory system. In particular, changes in target speaker usually result in declined speech perception. Here, we investigated whether speech cues indicating a subsequent change in target speaker reduce the costs of switching in younger and older adults. We employed event-related potential (ERP) measures and a speech perception task, in which sequences of short words were simultaneously presented by four speakers. Changes in target speaker were either unpredictable or semantically cued by a word within the target stream. Cued changes resulted in a less decreased performance than uncued changes in both age groups. The ERP analysis revealed shorter latencies in the change-related N400 and late positive complex (LPC) after cued changes, suggesting an acceleration in context updating and attention switching. Thus, both younger and older listeners used semantic cues to prepare changes in speaker setting.