Frequent false hearing by older adults: The role of age differences in metacognition.
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In two experiments testing age differences in the subjective experience of listening, which we call meta-audition, young and older adults were first trained to learn pairs of semantic associates. Following training, both groups were tested on identification of words presented in noise, with the critical manipulation being whether the target item was congruent, incongruent, or neutral with respect to prior training. Results of both experiments revealed that older adults compared to young adults were more prone to "false hearing," defined as mistaken high confidence in the accuracy of perception when a spoken word had been misperceived. These results were obtained even when performance was equated across age groups on control items by reducing the noise level for older adults. Such false hearing is shown to reflect older adults' heavier reliance on context. Findings suggest that older adults' greater ability to benefit from semantic context reflects their bias to respond consistently with the context, rather than their greater skill in using context. Procedures employed are unique in measuring the subjective experience of hearing as well as its accuracy. Both theoretical and applied implications of the findings are discussed. Convergence of results with those showing higher false memory, and false seeing are interpreted as showing that older adults are less able to constrain their processing in ways that are optimal for performance of a current task. That lessened constraint may be associated with decline in frontal-lobe functioning.
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