Human listeners have the remarkable ability to turn the complex variations in acoustic energy that comprise the speech signal into something understandable. When we read, this task is made easy by the presence of white spaces between words, but in connected speech it is not that simple. So how do listeners identify words within the speech stream and turn it into something meaningful? And, is this process influenced by differences across listeners, such as those in hearing, memory and linguistic knowledge?
Current understanding of this issue is based predominantly on experiments involving young university students. However our recent research suggests that theoretical models of speech perception developed and tested on young university students may not be representative of perceptual processing as we age. In a systematic and theoretically driven investigation we aim to determine the extent to which age, hearing, memory and vocabulary knowledge are predictive of speech processing in a large population of younger and older listeners. We expect that this study will highlight the key role that differences in vocabulary, hearing and memory play in speech perception. We also anticipate that the findings may have significant implications for the development of hearing technologies.