CORDIS - EU research results

Prosodic strategies to improve the attention and recall of a listener exposed to an auditory stimulus

Final Report Summary - PROSOCOGNITION (Prosodic strategies to improve the attention and recall of a listener exposed to an auditory stimulus)

Prosody features of a message are a key factor in the transmission of oral information. Some authors have shown that perception and proper comprehension of auditory messages depend largely on intonation, stress, and speech rate used by speakers. The knowledge about how the prosody features influence the listener’s attention and recall is fundamental for improving the cognitive processing as well as obtaining a more complete picture of how brain processes auditory stimulus. Therefore, the specific goal of this study is to establish how different pitch range variations, stress variations, and different speech rates applied to radio commercials in two modalities (informative and narrative messages) may influence the cognitive processing by provoking an orienting response (OR) and modifying the attention and recall of the listener.
In order to achieve this goal, three within-subjects experiments were conducted. Each experiment was devoted to one prosody element: intonation, stress, and speech rate. Participants listened to 16 radio commercials that were created with different intonation, stress and speech rate patterns in these three different experiments. The radio advertisements combined different pitch ranges, stresses, and speech rates in certain degrees for two conditions: informative and narrative messages.
The methodology of this study is based on a multidimensional approach and, consequently, analyzes the cognitive effects of the prosody patterns through a triangulation method. This method combines psychophysiological measures with relevant self-reported data to draw inferences about cognition and emotional/motivational processes. In this study, self-report scales are employed to measure the listener’s conscious processing and the response to the stimulus, psychophysiological measures (heart rate, skin conductance, Facial EMG, and Eye Tracking) are used to capture attention and emotional responses to content, and memory tests have as an objective to observe the short-term memory representations of the content. The dependent variables in this study were perception measures: self-perception of effectiveness and adequacy; physiological measures to test attention, arousal, and emotion: skin conductance level (SCL), heart rate (HR), Facial EMG, and Eye Tracking; and cognitive measures to measure memory: immediate recall and recognition accuracy.
As suggested in the hypotheses, the results showed that the degree of novelty introduced by pitch modifications and stresses using a moderate speech rate (180 words per minute) provoked an oriented response and improved the levels of attention and recall of a listener exposed to an auditory message. These results can be explained by both linguistic and psychological reasons, according to the principle of distinctive and contrastive coherence of prosody. On one hand, prosody variations operated as acoustic signals that helped the listener to distinguish the syntactic structure and the semantic meaning of the sentence and thus highlighted the most important part of the information. This orientation improved memory and finally attained a better cognitive processing of the information. On the other hand, acoustic changes provoked by prosody variations contributed to attract the listener's attention and to activate their arousal, as was shown by the HR and EDA results.
In conclusion, if we consider that a key goal of any public speaking communication is to maintain the attention of the listener and to understand the content of messages, it is clear that the results of this study may have significant repercussions for all the professionals related to speech. Hence, the conclusions may be of great interest for the study of public speaking. The findings may be applied to improve the processing of auditory messages complexity in media communication (audio in different platforms) and specifically in advertising and marketing. The results can be specifically applicable to media communication and advertising (radio, podcast, television and the Internet). The application of persuasive strategies to improve the effectiveness of advertisements is a key aspect in order to increase the sale of products or services. Other potential areas could benefit from the results: political communication, education activities, language learning, or speech synthesis. Last, the conclusions of this study can be applied to health care to improve the cognitive processing of individuals with attention or recall disorders, for example, elder people or children with attention deficit.