Wait what? The interaction Between Some Cognitive Abilities and Context Benefit

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When listening to spoken sentences in noisy settings, the brain may rely on surrounding sentence context to aid in understanding the meaning of a sentence. Existing research suggests that variation in the ability to use cognitive processes, specifically inhibition and working memory, may predict a listener's reliance on sentence context. Research also suggests that the position of a missing or unclear word within a sentence may interact with inhibition and working memory ability to predict the listener’s use of sentence context. In this experiment, participants with normal hearing listened to sentences containing a degraded target word. Each sentence context either predicted the target word “deer,” the target word “tear,” or neither target word. The target word was presented at either the beginning or end of the context sentence. Target words were distorted by adding background noise. Participants indicated whether they believed they heard the target word “deer” or “tear.” Participant scores on the NIH Word List Sort Working Memory and Stroop Color-Word Assessments were compared to their reliance on sentence context across both target word position conditions. It was hypothesized that weak inhibition ability and weak working memory will increase reliance on context. The results showed that neither working memory nor inhibition abilities can completely explain listeners’ reliance on sentence context. Future research should explore other cognitive abilities, such as processing speed, that may better predict listeners’ use of sentence context in noisy environments.