Oude man spits oren
Oude man spits oren

Investigating turntaking in conversations with Parkinson's and hearing impairment

We have many conversations throughout our days. Most people switch effortlessly between the roles of speaker and listener. But not everyone takes this interaction for granted. Linguist Esther Janse of the Centre for Language Studies is researching turn-taking in conversations with people with Parkinson's and hearing impairments.


Healthy people often multitask during conversations. They listen and prepare their answer at the same time. "If you're sitting waiting for someone to finish speaking and you want to say something in return, you wait for a signal that someone is ready, for example someone lowering their voice," Janse explains. These signals allow us to respond at the right time. However, this process is complicated when health problems prevent people from picking up on these signals.


"People with hearing aids, or people who actually have a hearing aid but prefer to leave it in the drawer, often say: if others speak clearly, I will understand what is said. But understanding words is different from picking up those signals," Janse says. In addition to hearing problems, cognitive impairments can also be a major obstacle in turn-taking. "In people with Parkinson's, for example, it can take longer for them to process their interlocutor's question. But old age can also play a role in this."

Janse's research project focuses on understanding this turn transition, especially in people who use or avoid hearing aids. By investigating whether they can pick up the subtle signals in speech, Janse aims to gain insight into how turn-taking works in these target groups. 

Building understanding

More knowledge about these dynamics could help improve treatment strategies and increase understanding of the communication challenges of people with cognitive or hearing impairments. "By understanding how turn-taking works in these groups, we can also develop tools for those who communicate with these people. Because that person is naturally interacting with their environment. It is good then to be able to understand that someone in a conversation needs more time to listen and formulate an answer," says Janse.

CLS Small Research Grant

The research is partly made possible by a CLS Small Research Grant, which allowed Janse to use a student assistant to conduct experiments. This allowed the target groups elderly people, people with Parkinson's disease, people with hearing problems, and a control group of students to all be tested.

 In the experiment, the test subjects receive verbal input from a computer to which they had to respond and also engage in conversations. In this way, Jansen can analyse how and when these individuals start preparing their response to a question, when exactly they give their answer and what information they can use to do so.

Read more about the study on the project page.

Contact information

About person
Dr E. Janse (Esther)