Unilateral Acoustic Degradation Delays Attentional Separation of Competing Speech

Trends Hear. 2021 Jan-Dec:25:23312165211013242. doi: 10.1177/23312165211013242.


Hearing loss is often asymmetric such that hearing thresholds differ substantially between the two ears. The extreme case of such asymmetric hearing is single-sided deafness. A unilateral cochlear implant (CI) on the more severely impaired ear is an effective treatment to restore hearing. The interactive effects of unilateral acoustic degradation and spatial attention to one sound source in multitalker situations are at present unclear. Here, we simulated some features of listening with a unilateral CI in young, normal-hearing listeners (N = 22) who were presented with 8-band noise-vocoded speech to one ear and intact speech to the other ear. Neural responses were recorded in the electroencephalogram to obtain the spectrotemporal response function to speech. Listeners made more mistakes when answering questions about vocoded (vs. intact) attended speech. At the neural level, we asked how unilateral acoustic degradation would impact the attention-induced amplification of tracking target versus distracting speech. Interestingly, unilateral degradation did not per se reduce the attention-induced amplification but instead delayed it in time: Speech encoding accuracy, modelled on the basis of the spectrotemporal response function, was significantly enhanced for attended versus ignored intact speech at earlier neural response latencies (<∼250 ms). This attentional enhancement was not absent but delayed for vocoded speech. These findings suggest that attentional selection of unilateral, degraded speech is feasible but induces delayed neural separation of competing speech, which might explain listening challenges experienced by unilateral CI users.

Keywords: attention; cochlear implant; envelope; spectrotemporal response function; speech tracking; unilateral vocoding.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Acoustics
  • Cochlear Implantation*
  • Cochlear Implants*
  • Humans
  • Speech
  • Speech Perception*