Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Speech and Hearing Science

Research Advisor

Mary L. Erickson, Ph.D.


Mark S. Hedrick, Ph.D. Kristin A. King, Ph.D. John C. Malone, Ph.D.


categorization, effect, music, older, word, younger


Aim: Research has shown that background music, with and without vocal content, has a detrimental effect on cognitive task performance. Research has also shown a decline in processing speed as age increases. The present study seeks to answer the following questions: 1. Will background vocal music have any detrimental effects on performance of a visual semantic word categorization task? 2. Does age have any effect on performance of visual semantic word categorization in the presence of background music?

Participants: Participants consisted of 36 adult native speakers of English with normal speech and language divided in to two groups based on age, an older group (63-79 years) and a younger group (18-33 years). The younger group was recruited from the population of students of the University of Tennessee and the Knoxville community. The older group was recruited from the Knoxville Office on Aging and the Knoxville community.

Stimuli: Printed words were chosen from superordinate categories such as tools, utensils, animals, food, clothing, furniture, body parts, vehicles, toys, instruments, and insects. The auditory stimulus was Adele’s song “Someone Like You,” from the commercial CD recording. Instrumental recordings of the song were constructed using the music notation software program, Finale and sampled instruments.

Procedure: Participants performed a categorization task of printed words on the computer screen in the presence of background music. Participants’ reaction times and the accuracy of their responses were recorded by a software program, SuperLab Pro. The experiment was presented four times consecutively for four randomized auditory conditions consisting of 26 word sets per condition. A questionnaire was administered at the end of the final experiment.

Statistical Analysis: A mixed design 2x4 ANOVA was performed (between subjects factor – age group and within-subjects factor – condition) to test the main effects and/or interactions between groups and within groups. Paired sample T-tests were computed to test for comparisons within groups for any significant differences among conditions. Correlations and covariate analyses were performed for questionnaire data.

Results: The results did not indicate any significant effect of auditory condition on categorization task performance. Vocal music did not increase reaction times or decrease the accuracy of word categorization. On the other hand, a significant effect of age was found for reaction time and accuracy. Older adults performed significantly more slowly and less accurately than younger adults.