Studies on bilateral cochlear implants at the University of Wisconsin's Binaural Hearing and Speech Laboratory

J Am Acad Audiol. 2012 Jun;23(6):476-94. doi: 10.3766/jaaa.23.6.9.


This report highlights research projects relevant to binaural and spatial hearing in adults and children. In the past decade we have made progress in understanding the impact of bilateral cochlear implants (BiCIs) on performance in adults and children. However, BiCI users typically do not perform as well as normal hearing (NH) listeners. In this article we describe the benefits from BiCIs compared with a single cochlear implant (CI), focusing on measures of spatial hearing and speech understanding in noise. We highlight the fact that in BiCI listening the devices in the two ears are not coordinated; thus binaural spatial cues that are available to NH listeners are not available to BiCI users. Through the use of research processors that carefully control the stimulus delivered to each electrode in each ear, we are able to preserve binaural cues and deliver them with fidelity to BiCI users. Results from those studies are discussed as well, with a focus on the effect of age at onset of deafness and plasticity of binaural sensitivity. Our work with children has expanded both in number of subjects tested and age range included. We have now tested dozens of children ranging in age from 2 to 14 yr. Our findings suggest that spatial hearing abilities emerge with bilateral experience. While we originally focused on studying performance in free field, where real world listening experiments are conducted, more recently we have begun to conduct studies under carefully controlled binaural stimulation conditions with children as well. We have also studied language acquisition and speech perception and production in young CI users. Finally, a running theme of this research program is the systematic investigation of the numerous factors that contribute to spatial and binaural hearing in BiCI users. By using CI simulations (with vocoders) and studying NH listeners under degraded listening conditions, we are able to tease apart limitations due to the hardware/software of the CI systems from limitations due to neural pathology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Biomedical Research
  • Biomedical Technology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cochlear Implantation*
  • Cochlear Implants*
  • Female
  • Hearing Loss, Bilateral / physiopathology*
  • Hearing Loss, Bilateral / psychology
  • Hearing Loss, Bilateral / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Universities