Accommodating to new ears: the effects of sensory and sensory-motor feedback

J Acoust Soc Am. 2014 Apr;135(4):2002-11. doi: 10.1121/1.4868369.


Changing the shape of the outer ear using small in-ear molds degrades sound localization performance consistent with the distortion of monaural spectral cues to location. It has been shown recently that adult listeners re-calibrate to these new spectral cues for locations both inside and outside the visual field. This raises the question as to the teacher signal for this remarkable functional plasticity. Furthermore, large individual differences in the extent and rate of accommodation suggests a number of factors may be driving this process. A training paradigm exploiting multi-modal and sensory-motor feedback during accommodation was examined to determine whether it might accelerate this process. So as to standardize the modification of the spectral cues, molds filling 40% of the volume of each outer ear were custom made for each subject. Daily training sessions for about an hour, involving repetitive auditory stimuli and exploratory behavior by the subject, significantly improved the extent of accommodation measured by both front-back confusions and polar angle localization errors, with some improvement in the rate of accommodation demonstrated by front-back confusion errors. This work has implications for both the process by which a coherent representation of auditory space is maintained and for accommodative training for hearing aid wearers.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Auditory Pathways / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Ear, External / anatomy & histology*
  • Ear, External / innervation*
  • Equipment Design
  • Feedback, Sensory*
  • Female
  • Hearing Aids
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neuronal Plasticity*
  • Persons With Hearing Impairments / psychology
  • Persons With Hearing Impairments / rehabilitation
  • Psychoacoustics
  • Sound Localization*
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult