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Sensory-Cognitive Interaction in the Neural Encoding of Speech in Noise: A Review
06 August 2020 (online)
Background: Speech-in-noise (SIN) perception is one of the most complex tasks faced by listeners on a daily basis. Although listening in noise presents challenges for all listeners, background noise inordinately affects speech perception in older adults and in children with learning disabilities. Hearing thresholds are an important factor in SIN perception, but they are not the only factor. For successful comprehension, the listener must perceive and attend to relevant speech features, such as the pitch, timing, and timbre of the target speaker's voice. Here, we review recent studies linking SIN and brainstem processing of speech sounds.
Purpose: To review recent work that has examined the ability of the auditory brainstem response to complex sounds (cABR), which reflects the nervous system's transcription of pitch, timing, and timbre, to be used as an objective neural index for hearing-in-noise abilities.
Study Sample: We examined speech-evoked brainstem responses in a variety of populations, including children who are typically developing, children with language-based learning impairment, young adults, older adults, and auditory experts (i.e., musicians).
Data Collection and Analysis: In a number of studies, we recorded brainstem responses in quiet and babble noise conditions to the speech syllable /da/ in all age groups, as well as in a variable condition in children in which /da/ was presented in the context of seven other speech sounds. We also measured speech-in-noise perception using the Hearing-in-Noise Test (HINT) and the Quick Speech-in-Noise Test (QuickSIN).
Results: Children and adults with poor SIN perception have deficits in the subcortical spectrotemporal representation of speech, including low-frequency spectral magnitudes and the timing of transient response peaks. Furthermore, auditory expertise, as engendered by musical training, provides both behavioral and neural advantages for processing speech in noise.
Conclusions: These results have implications for future assessment and management strategies for young and old populations whose primary complaint is difficulty hearing in background noise. The cABR provides a clinically applicable metric for objective assessment of individuals with SIN deficits, for determination of the biologic nature of disorders affecting SIN perception, for evaluation of appropriate hearing aid algorithms, and for monitoring the efficacy of auditory remediation and training.