Date of Award

January 2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Communication Sciences & Disorders

First Advisor

Amebu Seddoh


Various studies have reported that elderly individuals have difficulty perceiving intonation, especially in emotional context. However, the nature and the extent to which this problem affects the communication ability of these individuals are poorly understood. Most studies use isolated sentences which unlike natural discourse indicate no contextual information. Consequently, it is unclear whether the intonation processing problems for the elderly are manifested across the board regardless of availability of contextual information. To understand this issue, the present study sought to compare the performance of elderly adults on perception of intonation in stimuli presented with and without contextual information. Participants were 20 elderly and 26 young adults. They were presented two categories of sentences that conveyed emotional (happy vs. sad) and nonemotional (statement vs. question) distinctions. Each emotional stimulus was presented with and without contextual information, and subjects were required to identify its meaning. The nonemotional sentences were presented without contextual information and subjects were asked to indicate whether each was a statement or a question. Elderly adults performed on both tasks comparably with the young subjects. However, they had difficulty identifying sad meanings presented without contextual information. These outcomes were discussed in terms of factors that influence perception of emotional meanings in discourse. It was suggested that the failure of the elderly subjects to recognize sad meanings presented without contextual information might have a basis in the acoustic properties of the stimulus.