Having two ears facilitates the perceptual separation of concurrent talkers for bilateral and single-sided deaf cochlear implantees

Joshua G.W. Bernstein*, Matthew J. Goupell, Gerald I. Schuchman, Arnaldo L. Rivera, Douglas S. Brungart

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations

Abstract

Objectives: Listening to speech with multiple competing talkers requires the perceptual separation of the target voice from the interfering background. Normal-hearing listeners are able to take advantage of perceived differences in the spatial locations of competing sound sources to facilitate this process. Previous research suggests that bilateral (BI) cochlear-implant (CI) listeners cannot do so, and it is unknown whether single-sided deaf (SSD) CI users (one acoustic and one CI ear) have this ability. This study investigated whether providing a second ear via cochlear implantation can facilitate the perceptual separation of targets and interferers in a listening situation involving multiple competing talkers. Design: BI-CI and SSD-CI listeners were required to identify speech from a target talker mixed with one or two interfering talkers. In the baseline monaural condition, the target speech and the interferers were presented to one of the CIs (for the BI-CI listeners) or to the acoustic ear (for the SSD-CI listeners). In the bilateral condition, the target was still presented to the first ear but the interferers were presented to both the target ear and the listener's second ear (always a CI), thereby testing whether CI listeners could use information about the interferer obtained from a second ear to facilitate perceptual separation of the target and interferer. Results: Presenting a copy of the interfering signals to the second ear improved performance, up to 4 to 5 dB (12 to 18 percentage points), but the amount of improvement depended on the type of interferer. For BI-CI listeners, the improvement occurred mainly in conditions involving one interfering talker, regardless of gender. For SSD-CI listeners, the improvement occurred in conditions involving one or two interfering talkers of the same gender as the target. This interaction is consistent with the idea that the SSD-CI listeners had access to pitch cues in their normal-hearing ear to separate the opposite-gender target and interferers, while the BI-CI listeners did not. Conclusions: These results suggest that a second auditory input via a CI can facilitate the perceptual separation of competing talkers in situations where monaural cues are insufficient to do so, thus partially restoring a key advantage of having two ears that was previously thought to be inaccessible to CI users.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)289-302
Number of pages14
JournalEar and Hearing
Volume37
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Auditory scene analysis
  • Binaural
  • Cochlear implant
  • Informational masking

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