Nina Kraus

Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, United States

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Publications (259)830.89 Total impact

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    ABSTRACT: Language experience fine-tunes how the auditory system processes sound. Bilinguals, relative to monolinguals, have more robust evoked responses to speech that manifest as stronger neural encoding of the fundamental frequency (F0) and greater across-trial consistency. However, it is unknown whether such enhancements increase with increasing second language experience. We predict that F0 amplitude and neural consistency scale with dual-language experience during childhood, such that more years of bilingual experience leads to more robust F0 encoding and greater neural consistency. To test this hypothesis, we recorded auditory brainstem responses to the synthesized syllables ‘ba’ and ‘ga’ in two groups of bilingual children who were matched for age at test (8.4 ± 0.67 years) but differed in their age of second language acquisition. One group learned English and Spanish simultaneously from birth (n = 13), while the second group learned the two languages sequentially (n = 15), spending on average their first four years as monolingual Spanish speakers. We find that simultaneous bilinguals have a larger F0 response to ‘ba’ and ‘ga’ and a more consistent response to ‘ba’ compared to sequential bilinguals and we demonstrate that these neural enhancements track with years of bilingual experience. These findings support the notion that bilingualism enhances subcortical auditory processing.
    Neuroscience Letters. 11/2014;
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    ABSTRACT: Temporal cues are important for discerning word boundaries and syllable segments in speech; their perception facilitates language acquisition and development. Beat synchronization and neural encoding of speech reflect precision in processing temporal cues and have been linked to reading skills. In poor readers, diminished neural precision may contribute to rhythmic and phonological deficits. Here we establish links between beat synchronization and speech processing in children who have not yet begun to read: preschoolers who can entrain to an external beat have more faithful neural encoding of temporal modulations in speech and score higher on tests of early language skills. In summary, we propose precise neural encoding of temporal modulations as a key mechanism underlying reading acquisition. Because beat synchronization abilities emerge at an early age, these findings may inform strategies for early detection of and intervention for language-based learning disabilities.
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 09/2014;
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    ABSTRACT: Musicians are often reported to have enhanced neurophysiological functions, especially in the auditory system. Musical training is thought to improve nervous system function by focusing attention on meaningful acoustic cues, and these improvements in auditory processing cascade to language and cognitive skills. Correlational studies have reported musician enhancements in a variety of populations across the life span. In light of these reports, educators are considering the potential for co-curricular music programs to provide auditory-cognitive enrichment to children during critical developmental years. To date, however, no studies have evaluated biological changes following participation in existing, successful music education programs. We used a randomized control design to investigate whether community music participation induces a tangible change in auditory processing. The community music training was a longstanding and successful program that provides free music instruction to children from underserved backgrounds who stand at high risk for learning and social problems. Children who completed 2 years of music training had a stronger neurophysiological distinction of stop consonants, a neural mechanism linked to reading and language skills. One year of training was insufficient to elicit changes in nervous system function; beyond 1 year, however, greater amounts of instrumental music training were associated with larger gains in neural processing. We therefore provide the first direct evidence that community music programs enhance the neural processing of speech in at-risk children, suggesting that active and repeated engagement with sound changes neural function.
    The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience. 09/2014; 34(36):11913-8.
  • Adam Tierney, Nina Kraus
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    ABSTRACT: The neural resonance theory of musical meter explains musical beat tracking as the result of entrainment of neural oscillations to the beat frequency and its higher harmonics. This theory has gained empirical support from experiments using simple, abstract stimuli. However, to date there has been no empirical evidence for a role of neural entrainment in the perception of the beat of ecologically valid music. Here we presented participants with a single pop song with a superimposed bassoon sound. This stimulus was either lined up with the beat of the music or shifted away from the beat by 25% of the average interbeat interval. Both conditions elicited a neural response at the beat frequency. However, although the on-the-beat condition elicited a clear response at the first harmonic of the beat, this frequency was absent in the neural response to the off-the-beat condition. These results support a role for neural entrainment in tracking the metrical structure of real music and show that neural meter tracking can be disrupted by the presentation of contradictory rhythmic cues.
    Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 08/2014; · 4.49 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: To make sense of our ever-changing world, our brains search out patterns. This drive can be so strong that the brain imposes patterns when there are none. The opposite can also occur: The brain can overlook patterns because they do not conform to expectations. In this study, we examined this neural sensitivity to patterns within the auditory brainstem, an evolutionarily ancient part of the brain that can be fine-tuned by experience and is integral to an array of cognitive functions. We have recently shown that this auditory hub is sensitive to patterns embedded within a novel sound stream, and we established a link between neural sensitivity and behavioral indices of learning [Skoe, E., Krizman, J., Spitzer, E., & Kraus, N. The auditory brainstem is a barometer of rapid auditory learning. Neuroscience, 243, 104-114, 2013]. We now ask whether this sensitivity to stimulus statistics is biased by prior experience and the expectations arising from this experience. To address this question, we recorded complex auditory brainstem responses (cABRs) to two patterned sound sequences formed from a set of eight repeating tones. For both patterned sequences, the eight tones were presented such that the transitional probability (TP) between neighboring tones was either 33% (low predictability) or 100% (high predictability). Although both sequences were novel to the healthy young adult listener and had similar TP distributions, one was perceived to be more musical than the other. For the more musical sequence, participants performed above chance when tested on their recognition of the most predictable two-tone combinations within the sequence (TP of 100%); in this case, the cABR differed from a baseline condition where the sound sequence had no predictable structure. In contrast, for the less musical sequence, learning was at chance, suggesting that the listeners were "deaf" to the highly predictable repeating two-tone combinations in the sequence. For this condition, the cABR also did not differ from baseline. From this, we posit that the brainstem acts as a Bayesian sound processor, such that it factors in prior knowledge about the environment to index the probability of particular events within ever-changing sensory conditions.
    Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 07/2014; · 4.49 Impact Factor
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    Hearing research 02/2014; · 2.85 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Auditory processing is presumed to be influenced by cognitive processes - including attentional control - in a top-down manner. In bilinguals, activation of both languages during daily communication hones inhibitory skills, which subsequently bolster attentional control. We hypothesize that the heightened attentional demands of bilingual communication strengthens connections between cognitive (i.e., attentional control) and auditory processing, leading to greater across-trial consistency in the auditory evoked response (i.e., neural consistency) in bilinguals. To assess this, we collected passively-elicited auditory evoked responses to the syllable [da] in adolescent Spanish-English bilinguals and English monolinguals and separately obtained measures of attentional control and language ability. Bilinguals demonstrated enhanced attentional control and more consistent brainstem and cortical responses. In bilinguals, but not monolinguals, brainstem consistency tracked with language proficiency and attentional control. We interpret these enhancements in neural consistency as the outcome of strengthened attentional control that emerged from experience communicating in two languages.
    Brain and Language 01/2014; 128(1):34-40. · 3.39 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The young nervous system is primed for sensory learning, facilitating the acquisition of language and communication skills. Social and linguistic impoverishment can limit these learning opportunities, eventually leading to language-related challenges such as poor reading. Music training offers a promising auditory learning strategy by directing attention to meaningful acoustic elements of the soundscape. In light of evidence that music training improves auditory skills and their neural substrates, there are increasing efforts to enact community-based programs to provide music instruction to at-risk children. Harmony Project is a community foundation that has provided free music instruction to over 1000 children from Los Angeles gang-reduction zones over the past decade. We conducted an independent evaluation of biological effects of participating in Harmony Project by following a cohort of children for 1 year. Here we focus on a comparison between students who actively engaged with sound through instrumental music training vs. students who took music appreciation classes. All children began with an introductory music appreciation class, but midway through the year half of the children transitioned to the instrumental training. After the year of training, the children who actively engaged with sound through instrumental music training had faster and more robust neural processing of speech than the children who stayed in the music appreciation class, observed in neural responses to a speech sound /d/. The neurophysiological measures found to be enhanced in the instrumentally-trained children have been previously linked to reading ability, suggesting a gain in neural processes important for literacy stemming from active auditory learning. Despite intrinsic constraints on our study imposed by a community setting, these findings speak to the potential of active engagement with sound (i.e., music-making) to engender experience-dependent neuroplasticity and may inform the development of strategies for auditory learning.
    Frontiers in neuroscience. 01/2014; 8:351.
  • Nina Kraus, Samira Anderson
    The Hearing journal. 01/2014; 67(1):3.
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    ABSTRACT: The potential for short-term training to improve cognitive and sensory function in older adults has captured the public's interest. Initial results have been promising. For example, eight weeks of auditory-based cognitive training decreases peak latencies and peak variability in neural responses to speech presented in a background of noise and instills gains in speed of processing, speech-in-noise recognition, and short-term memory in older adults. But while previous studies have demonstrated short-term plasticity in older adults, we must consider the long-term maintenance of training gains. To evaluate training maintenance, we invited participants from an earlier training study to return for follow-up testing six months after the completion of training. We found that improvements in response peak timing to speech in noise and speed of processing were maintained, but the participants did not maintain speech-in-noise recognition or memory gains. Future studies should consider factors that are important for training maintenance, including the nature of the training, compliance with the training schedule, and the need for booster sessions after the completion of primary training.
    Neuropsychologia 01/2014; · 3.48 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Children from low-socioeconomic backgrounds tend to fall progressively further behind their higher-income peers over the course of their academic careers. Music training has been associated with enhanced language and learning skills, suggesting that music programs could play a role in helping low-income children to stay on track academically. Using a controlled, longitudinal design, the impact of group music instruction on English reading ability was assessed in 42 low-income Spanish-English bilingual children aged 6-9 years in Los Angeles. After one year, children who received music training retained their age-normed level of reading performance while a matched control group's performance deteriorated, consistent with expected declines in this population. While the extent of change is modest, outcomes nonetheless provide evidence that music programs may have value in helping to counteract the negative effects of low-socioeconomic status on child literacy development.
    PLoS ONE 01/2014; 9(11):e113383. · 3.53 Impact Factor
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    Adam Tierney, Nina Kraus
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    ABSTRACT: Phonological skills are enhanced by music training, but the mechanisms enabling this cross-domain enhancement remain unknown. To explain this cross-domain transfer, we propose a precise auditory timing hypothesis (PATH) whereby entrainment practice is the core mechanism underlying enhanced phonological abilities in musicians. Both rhythmic synchronization and language skills such as consonant discrimination, detection of word and phrase boundaries, and conversational turn-taking rely on the perception of extremely fine-grained timing details in sound. Auditory-motor timing is an acoustic feature which meets all five of the pre-conditions necessary for cross-domain enhancement to occur (Patel, 2011, 2012, 2014). There is overlap between the neural networks that process timing in the context of both music and language. Entrainment to music demands more precise timing sensitivity than does language processing. Moreover, auditory-motor timing integration captures the emotion of the trainee, is repeatedly practiced, and demands focused attention. The PATH predicts that musical training emphasizing entrainment will be particularly effective in enhancing phonological skills.
    Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 01/2014; 8:949. · 2.91 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Infants who have more power within the gamma frequency range at rest develop better language and cognitive abilities over their first 3 years of life (Benasich et al., 2008). This positive trend may reflect the gradual increase in resting gamma power that peaks at about 4 years (Takano & Ogawa, 1998): infants further along the maturational curve may exhibit both increased resting gamma power and more advanced language and cognitive function. Similar to other neural characteristics such as synaptic density, resting gamma power subsequently decreases with further development into adulthood (Tierney, Strait, O'Connell & Kraus, 2013). If previously reported relationships between resting gamma power and behavioral performance reflect variance in maturation, at least in part, negative correlations between resting gamma and behavior may predominate in later developmental stages, during which resting gamma activity is decreasing. We tested this prediction by examining resting gamma activity and language-dependent behavioral performance, reflected by a variety of reading-related tests, in adolescents between the ages of 14 and 15 years. Consistent with our predictions, resting gamma power inversely related to every aspect of reading assessed (i.e. reading fluency, rapid naming, and basic reading proficiency). Our results suggest that resting gamma power acts as an index of maturational progress in adolescents.
    Developmental Science 01/2014; 17(1):86-93. · 3.89 Impact Factor
  • Erika Skoe, Nina Kraus
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    ABSTRACT: Musical training during childhood has been linked to more robust encoding of sound later in life. We take this as evidence for an auditory reserve: a mechanism by which individuals capitalize on earlier life experiences to promote auditory processing. We assert that early auditory experiences guide how the reserve develops and is maintained over the lifetime. Experiences that occur after childhood, or which are limited in nature, are theorized to affect the reserve, although their influence on sensory processing may be less long-lasting and may potentially fade over time if not repeated. This auditory reserve may help to explain individual differences in how individuals cope with auditory impoverishment or loss of sensorineural function.
    Brain sciences. 01/2014; 4(4):575-593.
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    ABSTRACT: The human auditory brainstem is thought to undergo rapid developmental changes early in life until age ∼2 followed by prolonged stability until aging-related changes emerge. However, earlier work on brainstem development was limited by sparse sampling across the lifespan and/or averaging across children and adults. Using a larger dataset than past investigations, we aimed to trace more subtle variations in auditory brainstem function that occur normally from infancy into the eighth decade of life. To do so, we recorded auditory brainstem responses (ABRs) to a click stimulus and a speech syllable (da) in 586 normal-hearing healthy individuals. Although each set of ABR measures (latency, frequency encoding, response consistency, nonstimulus activity) has a distinct developmental profile, across all measures developmental changes were found to continue well past age 2. In addition to an elongated developmental trajectory and evidence for multiple auditory developmental processes, we revealed a period of overshoot during childhood (5-11 years old) for latency and amplitude measures, when the latencies are earlier and the amplitudes are greater than the adult value. Our data also provide insight into the capacity for experience-dependent auditory plasticity at different stages in life and underscore the importance of using age-specific norms in clinical and experimental applications.
    Cerebral Cortex 12/2013; · 8.31 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Attention induces synchronicity in neuronal firing for the encoding of a given stimulus at the exclusion of others. Recently, we reported decreased variability in scalp-recorded cortical evoked potentials to attended compared with ignored speech in adults. Here we aimed to determine the developmental time course for this neural index of auditory attention. We compared cortical auditory-evoked variability with attention across three age groups: preschoolers, school-aged children and young adults. Results reveal an increased impact of selective auditory attention on cortical response variability with development. Although all three age groups have equivalent response variability to attended speech, only school-aged children and adults have a distinction between attend and ignore conditions. Preschoolers, on the other hand, demonstrate no impact of attention on cortical responses, which we argue reflects the gradual emergence of attention within this age range. Outcomes are interpreted in the context of the behavioral relevance of cortical response variability and its potential to serve as a developmental index of cognitive skill.
    Developmental Science 11/2013; · 3.89 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Aging results in pervasive declines in nervous system function. In the auditory system, these declines include neural timing delays in response to fast-changing speech elements; this causes older adults to experience difficulty understanding speech, especially in challenging listening environments. These age-related declines are not inevitable, however: older adults with a lifetime of music training do not exhibit neural timing delays. Yet many people play an instrument for a few years without making a lifelong commitment. Here, we examined neural timing in a group of human older adults who had nominal amounts of music training early in life, but who had not played an instrument for decades. We found that a moderate amount (4-14 years) of music training early in life is associated with faster neural timing in response to speech later in life, long after training stopped (>40 years). We suggest that early music training sets the stage for subsequent interactions with sound. These experiences may interact over time to sustain sharpened neural processing in central auditory nuclei well into older age.
    Journal of Neuroscience 11/2013; 33(45):17667-74. · 6.91 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Despite the prevalence of poverty worldwide, little is known about how early socioeconomic adversity affects auditory brain function. Socioeconomically disadvantaged children are underexposed to linguistically and cognitively stimulating environments and overexposed to environmental toxins, including noise pollution. This kind of sensory impoverishment, we theorize, has extensive repercussions on how the brain processes sound. To characterize how this impoverishment affects auditory brain function, we compared two groups of normal-hearing human adolescents who attended the same schools and who were matched in age, sex, and ethnicity, but differed in their maternal education level, a correlate of socioeconomic status (SES). In addition to lower literacy levels and cognitive abilities, adolescents from lower maternal education backgrounds were found to have noisier neural activity than their classmates, as reflected by greater activity in the absence of auditory stimulation. Additionally, in the lower maternal education group, the neural response to speech was more erratic over repeated stimulation, with lower fidelity to the input signal. These weaker, more variable, and noisier responses are suggestive of an inefficient auditory system. By studying SES within a neuroscientific framework, we have the potential to expand our understanding of how experience molds the brain, in addition to informing intervention research aimed at closing the achievement gap between high-SES and low-SES children.
    Journal of Neuroscience 10/2013; 33(44):17221-31. · 6.91 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: In direct conflict with the concept of auditory brainstem nuclei as passive relay stations for behaviorally-relevant signals, recent studies have demonstrated plasticity of the auditory signal in the brainstem. In this paper we provide an overview of the forms of plasticity evidenced in subcortical auditory regions. We posit an integrative model of auditory plasticity, which argues for a continuous, online modulation of bottom-up signals via corticofugal pathways, based on an algorithm that anticipates and updates incoming stimulus regularities. We discuss the negative implications of plasticity in clinical dysfunction and propose novel methods of eliciting brainstem responses that could specify the biological nature of auditory processing deficits.
    Brain Topography 10/2013; · 3.67 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: While hearing in noise is a complex task, even in high levels of noise humans demonstrate remarkable hearing ability. Binaural hearing, which involves the integration and analysis of incoming sounds from both ears, is an important mechanism that promotes hearing in complex listening environments. Analyzing inter-ear differences helps differentiate between sound sources-a key mechanism that facilitates hearing in noise. Even when both ears receive the same input, known as diotic hearing, speech intelligibility in noise is improved. Although musicians have better speech-in-noise perception compared with non-musicians, we do not know to what extent binaural processing contributes to this advantage. Musicians often demonstrate enhanced neural responses to sound, however, which may undergird their speech-in-noise perceptual enhancements. Here, we recorded auditory brainstem responses in young adult musicians and non-musicians to a speech stimulus for which there was no musician advantage when presented monaurally. When presented diotically, musicians demonstrated faster neural timing and greater intertrial response consistency relative to non-musicians. Furthermore, musicians' enhancements to the diotically presented stimulus correlated with speech-in-noise perception. These data provide evidence for musical training's impact on biological processes and suggest binaural processing as a possible contributor to more proficient hearing in noise.
    Journal of Neuroscience 10/2013; 33(42):16741-7. · 6.91 Impact Factor

Publication Stats

8k Citations
830.89 Total Impact Points


  • 1991–2014
    • Northwestern University
      • • Roxelyn and Richard Pepper Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders
      • • Department of Neurobiology
      Evanston, Illinois, United States
  • 2013
    • University of Connecticut
      • Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences
      Storrs, CT, United States
    • University of Texas at Austin
      • Center for Perceptual Systems
      Austin, Texas, United States
  • 2011
    • Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences
      Leipzig, Saxony, Germany
  • 2009
    • University of Pittsburgh
      • Department of Otolaryngology
      Pittsburgh, PA, United States
  • 2005
    • University of Oregon
      • Department of Psychology
      Eugene, OR, United States
  • 2003
    • Medical College of Wisconsin
      • Otolaryngology & Communication Sciences
      Milwaukee, WI, United States
  • 2002
    • House Research Institute
      Los Angeles, California, United States
    • University of Washington Seattle
      • Department of Speech & Hearing Sciences
      Seattle, WA, United States
  • 2000
    • University of Helsinki
      • Department of Social Psychology
      Helsinki, Province of Southern Finland, Finland
  • 1985–1990
    • Saint Michael's Medical Center
      Newark, New Jersey, United States
    • Northern Illinois University
      DeKalb, Illinois, United States
  • 1982–1987
    • University of Chicago
      Chicago, Illinois, United States