Objectives: Cochlear implantation does not automatically result in robust spoken language understanding for postlingually deafened adults. Enormous outcome variability exists, related to the complexity of understanding spoken language through cochlear implants (CIs), which deliver degraded speech representations. This investigation examined variability in word recognition as explained by "perceptual attention" and "auditory sensitivity" to acoustic cues underlying speech perception.
Design: Thirty postlingually deafened adults with CIs and 20 age-matched controls with normal hearing (NH) were tested. Participants underwent assessment of word recognition in quiet and perceptual attention (cue-weighting strategies) based on labeling tasks for two phonemic contrasts: (1) "cop"-"cob," based on a duration cue (easily accessible through CIs) or a dynamic spectral cue (less accessible through CIs), and (2) "sa"-"sha," based on static or dynamic spectral cues (both potentially poorly accessible through CIs). Participants were also assessed for auditory sensitivity to the speech cues underlying those labeling decisions.
Results: Word recognition varied widely among CI users (20 to 96%), but it was generally poorer than for NH participants. Implant users and NH controls showed similar perceptual attention and auditory sensitivity to the duration cue, while CI users showed poorer attention and sensitivity to all spectral cues. Both attention and sensitivity to spectral cues predicted variability in word recognition.
Conclusions: For CI users, both perceptual attention and auditory sensitivity are important in word recognition. Efforts should be made to better represent spectral cues through implants, while also facilitating attention to these cues through auditory training.