Prosodic Perception in Aging Individuals: a Focus on Intonation

  • Amebu Seddoh
  • Afua Blay
  • Richard Ferraro
  • Wayne Swisher


Studies indicate that older adults have diminished ability to decode prosodic information. However, the precise nature and basis of this deficit have proved difficult to uncover. Although prosody itself is poorly understood, one of its components, intonation, has been shown to be context-dependent. The present study sought to determine whether intonation perception problems for aging individuals are related to stimulus contextual factors. In two experiments, older and younger adults were asked to identify emotional (happiness, sadness) and nonemotional meanings signaled by intonation. Stimuli used were sentences with basic (Experiment 1) and non-basic (Experiment 2) word order. Those conveying emotional meanings were either accompanied or unaccompanied by contextual information. The older adults performed comparably with the younger adults on all tasks in Experiment 1 except identification of sadness in decontextualized stimuli. By contrast, their performance in Experiment 2 not only fell below that of the younger adults across the board, but it also differed according to emotion type. Both groups performed better on decoding intonation in contextualized than decontextualized stimuli. These findings suggest that intonation perception problems for older adults might be related to stimulus contextual factors including syntax. They are discussed in terms of neurobiological factors, particularly age related changes in the brain.


Prosody Intonation Older adults Emotion Positivity bias Contextual information 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Human and Animal Rights

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards (see pages 5 and 16).

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Conflict of Interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Amebu Seddoh
    • 1
  • Afua Blay
    • 1
  • Richard Ferraro
    • 2
  • Wayne Swisher
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Communication Sciences and DisordersUniversity of North DakotaGrand ForksUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of North DakotaGrand ForksUSA

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