The Spectral Extent of Phasic Suppression of Loudness and Distortion-Product Otoacoustic Emissions by Infrasound and Low-Frequency Tones

J Assoc Res Otolaryngol. 2022 Apr;23(2):167-181. doi: 10.1007/s10162-021-00830-2. Epub 2022 Feb 7.


We investigated the effect of a biasing tone close to 5, 15, or 30 Hz on the response to higher-frequency probe tones, behaviorally, and by measuring distortion-product otoacoustic emissions (DPOAEs). The amplitude of the biasing tone was adjusted for criterion suppression of cubic DPOAE elicited by probe tones presented between 0.7 and 8 kHz, or criterion loudness suppression of a train of tone-pip probes in the range 0.125-8 kHz. For DPOAEs, the biasing-tone level for criterion suppression increased with probe-tone frequency by 8-9 dB/octave, consistent with an apex-to-base gradient of biasing-tone-induced basilar membrane displacement, as we verified by computational simulation. In contrast, the biasing-tone level for criterion loudness suppression increased with probe frequency by only 1-3 dB/octave, reminiscent of previously published data on low-side suppression of auditory nerve responses to characteristic frequency tones. These slopes were independent of biasing-tone frequency, but the biasing-tone sensation level required for criterion suppression was ~ 10 dB lower for the two infrasound biasing tones than for the 30-Hz biasing tone. On average, biasing-tone sensation levels as low as 5 dB were sufficient to modulate the perception of higher frequency sounds. Our results are relevant for recent debates on perceptual effects of environmental noise with very low-frequency content and might offer insight into the mechanism underlying low-side suppression.

Keywords: biasing; cochlear mechanics; human cochlea; infrasound; low-frequency hearing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Basilar Membrane
  • Cochlea* / physiology
  • Noise
  • Otoacoustic Emissions, Spontaneous* / physiology
  • Sound