Dual systems of speech category learning across the lifespan

W. Todd Maddox*, Bharath Chandrasekaran, Kirsten Smayda, Han Gyol Yi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Although categorization is fundamental to speech processing, little is known about the learning systems that mediate auditory categorization and even less is known about changes across the life span. Vision research supports dual-learning systems that are grounded in neuroscience and are partially dissociable. The reflective, rule-based system is prefrontally mediated and uses working memory and executive attention to develop and test rules for classifying in an explicit fashion. The reflexive, information-integration system is striatally mediated and operates by implicitly associating perception with actions that lead to reinforcement. We examine the extent to which dual-learning systems mediate auditory and speech learning in younger and older adults. We examined auditory category learning when a rule-based strategy (Experiment 1) or information-integration strategy (Experiment 2) was optimal, and found an age-related rule-based deficit, but intact informationintegration learning. Experiment 3 examined natural auditory category learning, and found an age-related performance deficit. Computational modeling suggested that this was attributable to older adults' persistent reliance on suboptimal, unidimensional strategies when 2-dimensional strategies were optimal. Working memory capacity was also found to be associated with improved rule-based and natural auditory category learning, but not information-integration category learning. These results suggest that dual-learning systems are operative in speech category learning across the life span, and that performance deficits, when present, are attributable to deficiencies in frontally mediated, rule-based processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1042-1056
Number of pages15
JournalPsychology and Aging
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2013


  • Aging
  • Auditory category learning
  • Information-integration
  • Reflective system
  • Reflexive system
  • Rule-based
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Social Psychology
  • Aging


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