Spectrotemporal modulations (STM) are essential features of speech signals that make them intelligible. While their encoding has been widely investigated in neurophysiology, we still lack a full understanding of how STMs are processed at the behavioral level and how cochlear hearing loss impacts this processing. Here, we introduce a novel methodological framework based on psychophysical reverse correlation deployed in the modulation space to characterize the mechanisms underlying STM detection in noise. We derive perceptual filters for young normal-hearing and older hearing-impaired individuals performing a detection task of an elementary target STM (a given product of temporal and spectral modulations) embedded in other masking STMs. Analyzed with computational tools, our data show that both groups rely on a comparable linear (band-pass)-nonlinear processing cascade, which can be well accounted for by a temporal modulation filter bank model combined with cross-correlation against the target representation. Our results also suggest that the modulation mistuning observed for the hearing-impaired group results primarily from broader cochlear filters. Yet, we find idiosyncratic behaviors that cannot be captured by cochlear tuning alone, highlighting the need to consider variability originating from additional mechanisms. Overall, this integrated experimental-computational approach offers a principled way to assess suprathreshold processing distortions in each individual and could thus be used to further investigate interindividual differences in speech intelligibility.
Keywords: computational modeling; psychophysical reverse correlation; sensorineural hearing loss; spectrotemporal modulation processing; suprathreshold auditory processing.