Is cochlear gain reduction related to speech-in-babble performance?
Noisy settings are difficult listening environments. With some effort, individuals with normal hearing are able to overcome this difficulty when perceiving speech, but the auditory mechanisms that help accomplish this are not well understood. One proposed mechanism is the medial olivocochlear reflex (MOCR), which reduces cochlear gain in response to sound. It is theorized that the MOCR could improve intelligibility by applying more gain reduction to the noise than to the speech, thereby enhancing the internal signal-to-noise ratio. To test this hypothesized relationship, the following measures were obtained from listeners with clinically normal hearing. Cochlear gain reduction was estimated psychoacoustically using a forward masking task. Speech-in-noise recognition was assessed using the QuickSIN test (Etymotic Research), which generates an estimate of the speech reception threshold (SRT) in background babble. Results were surprising because large reductions in cochlear gain were associated with large SRTs, which was the opposite of the hypothesized relationship. In addition, there was a large range for both cochlear gain reduction and SRT across listeners, with many individuals falling outside of the normal SRT range despite having normal hearing thresholds.
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