Cortical measures of binaural processing predict spatial release from masking performance

Melissa A. Papesh, Robert L. Folmer, Frederick J. Gallun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Binaural sensitivity is an important contributor to the ability to understand speech in adverse acoustical environments such as restaurants and other social gatherings. The ability to accurately report on binaural percepts is not commonly measured, however, as extensive training is required before reliable measures can be obtained. Here, we investigated the use of auditory evoked potentials (AEPs) as a rapid physiological indicator of detection of interaural phase differences (IPDs) by assessing cortical responses to 180° IPDs embedded in amplitude-modulated carrier tones. We predicted that decrements in encoding of IPDs would be evident in middle age, with further declines found with advancing age and hearing loss. Thus, participants in experiment #1 were young to middle-aged adults with relatively good hearing thresholds while participants in experiment #2 were older individuals with typical age-related hearing loss. Results revealed that while many of the participants in experiment #1 could encode IPDs in stimuli up to 1,000 Hz, few of the participants in experiment #2 had discernable responses to stimuli above 750 Hz. These results are consistent with previous studies that have found that aging and hearing loss impose frequency limits on the ability to encode interaural phase information present in the fine structure of auditory stimuli. We further hypothesized that AEP measures of binaural sensitivity would be predictive of participants' ability to benefit from spatial separation between sound sources, a phenomenon known as spatial release from masking (SRM) which depends upon binaural cues. Results indicate that not only were objective IPD measures well correlated with and predictive of behavioral SRM measures in both experiments, but that they provided much stronger predictive value than age or hearing loss. Overall, the present work shows that objective measures of the encoding of interaural phase information can be readily obtained using commonly available AEP equipment, allowing accurate determination of the degree to which binaural sensitivity has been reduced in individual listeners due to aging and/or hearing loss. In fact, objective AEP measures of interaural phase encoding are actually better predictors of SRM in speech-in-speech conditions than are age, hearing loss, or the combination of age and hearing loss.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number124
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
StatePublished - Mar 21 2017


  • Aging
  • Binaural
  • Electrophysiology
  • Evoked potential
  • Hearing
  • Human
  • Speech

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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