When hearing does not mean understanding: On the neural processing of syntactically complex sentences by listeners with hearing loss

Margreet Vogelzang, Christiane M. Thiel, Stephanie Rosemann, Jochem W. Rieger, Esther Ruigendijk, Frederick Erick Gallun, Daniel Rasetshwane

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Purpose: Adults with mild-to-moderate age-related hearing loss typically exhibit issues with speech understanding, but their processing of syntactically complex sentences is not well understood. We test the hypothesis that listeners with hearing loss’ difficulties with comprehension and processing of syntactically complex sentences are due to the processing of degraded input interfering with the successful processing of complex sentences. Method: We performed a neuroimaging study with a sentence comprehension task, varying sentence complexity (through subject-object order and verb-arguments order) and cognitive demands (presence or absence of a secondary task) within subjects. Groups of older subjectswith hearing loss (n=20) and age-matched normal-hearing controls (n = 20) were tested. Results: The comprehension data show effects of syntactic complexity and hearing ability, with normal-hearing controls outperforming listeners with hearing loss, seemingly more so on syntactically complex sentences. The secondary task did not influence off-line comprehension. The imaging data show effects of group, sentence complexity, and task, with listeners with hearing loss showing decreased activation in typical speech processing areas, such as the inferior frontal gyrus and superior temporal gyrus. No interactions between group, sentence complexity, and task were found in the neuroimaging data. Conclusions: The results suggest that listeners with hearing loss process speech differently from their normal-hearing peers, possibly due to the increased demands of processing degraded auditory input. Increased cognitive demands by means of a secondary visual shape processing task influence neural sentence processing, but no evidence was found that it does so in a different way for listeners with hearing loss and normal-hearing listeners.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)250-262
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing


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