[Show abstract][Hide abstract] 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
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] 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.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] 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.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] 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.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] 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
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] 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
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] 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.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] 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
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The ability to synchronize movement to a steady beat is a fundamental skill underlying musical performance and has been studied for decades as a model of sensorimotor synchronization. Nevertheless, little is known about the neural correlates of individual differences in the ability to synchronize to a beat. In particular, links between auditory-motor synchronization ability and characteristics of the brain's response to sound have not yet been explored. Given direct connections between the inferior colliculus (IC) and subcortical motor structures, we hypothesized that consistency of the neural response to sound within the IC is linked to the ability to tap consistently to a beat. Here, we show that adolescent humans who demonstrate less variability when tapping to a beat have auditory brainstem responses that are less variable as well. One of the sources of this enhanced consistency in subjects who can steadily tap to a beat may be decreased variability in the timing of the response, as these subjects also show greater between-trial phase-locking in the auditory brainstem response. Thus, musical training with a heavy emphasis on synchronization of movement to musical beats may improve auditory neural synchrony, potentially benefiting children with auditory-based language impairments characterized by excessively variable neural responses.
Journal of Neuroscience 09/2013; 33(38):14981-8. · 6.91 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Experience-dependent characteristics of auditory function, especially with regard to speech-evoked auditory neurophysiology, have garnered increasing attention in recent years. This interest stems from both pragmatic and theoretical concerns as it bears implications for the prevention and remediation of language-based learning impairment in addition to providing insight into mechanisms engendering experience-dependent changes in human sensory function. Musicians provide an attractive model for studying the experience-dependency of auditory processing in humans due to their distinctive neural enhancements compared to nonmusicians. We have only recently begun to address whether these enhancements are observable early in life, during the initial years of music training when the auditory system is under rapid development, as well as later in life, after the onset of the aging process. Here we review neural enhancements in musically trained individuals across the life span in the context of cellular mechanisms that underlie learning, identified in animal models. Musicians' subcortical physiologic enhancements are interpreted according to a cognitive framework for auditory learning, providing a model by which to study mechanisms of experience-dependent changes in auditory function in humans.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Musicians have increased resilience to the effects of noise on speech perception and its neural underpinnings. We do not know, however, how early in life these enhancements arise. We compared auditory brainstem responses to speech in noise in 32 preschool children, half of whom were engaged in music training. Thirteen children returned for testing one year later, permitting the first longitudinal assessment of subcortical auditory function with music training. Results indicate emerging neural enhancements in musically trained preschoolers for processing speech in noise. Longitudinal outcomes reveal that children enrolled in music classes experience further increased neural resilience to background noise following one year of continued training compared to nonmusician peers. Together, these data reveal enhanced development of neural mechanisms undergirding speech-in-noise perception in preschoolers undergoing music training and may indicate a biological impact of music training on auditory function during early childhood.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Individuals with sensorineural hearing loss often report frustration with speech being loud but not clear, especially in background noise. Despite advanced digital technology, hearing aid users may resort to removing their hearing aids in noisy environments due to the perception of excessive loudness. In an animal model, sensorineural hearing loss results in greater auditory nerve coding of the stimulus envelope, leading to a relative deficit of stimulus fine structure. Based on the hypothesis that brainstem encoding of the temporal envelope is greater in humans with sensorineural hearing loss, speech-evoked brainstem responses were recorded in normal hearing and hearing impaired age-matched groups of older adults. In the hearing impaired group, there was a disruption in the balance of envelope-to-fine structure representation compared to that of the normal hearing group. This imbalance may underlie the difficulty experienced by individuals with sensorineural hearing loss when trying to understand speech in background noise. This finding advances the understanding of the effects of sensorineural hearing loss on central auditory processing of speech in humans. Moreover, this finding has clinical potential for developing new amplification or implantation technologies, and in developing new training regimens to address this relative deficit of fine structure representation.
The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 05/2013; 133(5):3030-8. · 1.65 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The perception and neural representation of acoustically similar speech sounds underlie language development. Music training hones the perception of minute acoustic differences that distinguish sounds; this training may generalize to speech processing given that adult musicians have enhanced neural differentiation of similar speech syllables compared with nonmusicians. Here, we asked whether this neural advantage in musicians is present early in life by assessing musically trained and untrained children as young as age 3. We assessed auditory brainstem responses to the speech syllables /ba/ and /ga/ as well as auditory and visual cognitive abilities in musicians and nonmusicians across 3 developmental time-points: preschoolers, school-aged children, and adults. Cross-phase analyses objectively measured the degree to which subcortical responses differed to these speech syllables in musicians and nonmusicians for each age group. Results reveal that musicians exhibit enhanced neural differentiation of stop consonants early in life and with as little as a few years of training. Furthermore, the extent of subcortical stop consonant distinction correlates with auditory-specific cognitive abilities (i.e., auditory working memory and attention). Results are interpreted according to a corticofugal framework for auditory learning in which subcortical processing enhancements are engendered by strengthened cognitive control over auditory function in musicians.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Individuals with sensorineural hearing loss have difficulty understanding speech, especially in background noise. This deficit remains even when audibility is restored through amplification, suggesting that mechanisms beyond a reduction in peripheral sensitivity contribute to the perceptual difficulties associated with hearing loss. Given that normal-hearing musicians have enhanced auditory perceptual skills, including speech-in-noise perception, coupled with heightened subcortical responses to speech, we aimed to determine whether similar advantages could be observed in middle-aged adults with hearing loss. Results indicate that musicians with hearing loss, despite self-perceptions of average performance for understanding speech in noise, have a greater ability to hear in noise relative to nonmusicians. This is accompanied by more robust subcortical encoding of sound (e.g., stimulus-to-response correlations and response consistency) as well as more resilient neural responses to speech in the presence of background noise (e.g., neural timing). Musicians with hearing loss also demonstrate unique neural signatures of spectral encoding relative to nonmusicians: enhanced neural encoding of the speech-sound's fundamental frequency but not of its upper harmonics. This stands in contrast to previous outcomes in normal-hearing musicians, who have enhanced encoding of the harmonics but not the fundamental frequency. Taken together, our data suggest that although hearing loss modifies a musician's spectral encoding of speech, the musician advantage for perceiving speech in noise persists in a hearing-impaired population by adaptively strengthening underlying neural mechanisms for speech-in-noise perception.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Understanding speech in noise is one of the most complex activities encountered in everyday life, relying on peripheral hearing, central auditory processing, and cognition. These abilities decline with age, and so older adults are often frustrated by a reduced ability to communicate effectively in noisy environments. Many studies have examined these factors independently; in the last decade, however, the idea of the auditory-cognitive system has emerged, recognizing the need to consider the processing of complex sounds in the context of dynamic neural circuits. Here, we use structural equation modeling to evaluate interacting contributions of peripheral hearing, central processing, cognitive ability, and life experiences to understanding speech in noise. We recruited 120 older adults (ages 55 to 79) and evaluated their peripheral hearing status, cognitive skills, and central processing. We also collected demographic measures of life experiences, such as physical activity, intellectual engagement, and musical training. In our model, central processing and cognitive function predicted a significant proportion of variance in the ability to understand speech in noise. To a lesser extent, life experience predicted hearing-in-noise ability through modulation of brainstem function. Peripheral hearing levels did not significantly contribute to the model. Previous musical experience modulated the relative contributions of cognitive ability and lifestyle factors to hearing in noise. Our models demonstrate the complex interactions required to hear in noise and the importance of targeting cognitive function, lifestyle, and central auditory processing in the management of individuals who are having difficulty hearing in noise.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: To capture patterns in the environment, neurons in the auditory brainstem rapidly alter their firing based on the statistical properties of the soundscape. But how this neural sensitivity relates to behavior is unclear. We tackled this question by combining neural and behavioral measures of statistical learning, a general-purpose learning mechanism governing many complex behaviors including language acquisition. We recorded complex auditory brainstem responses (cABRs) while human adults implicitly learned to segment patterns embedded in an uninterrupted sound sequence based on their statistical characteristics. The brainstem's sensitivity to statistical structure was measured as the change in the cABR between a patterned and a pseudo-randomized sequence composed from the same sound set but differing in their sound-to-sound probabilities. Using this methodology, we provide the first demonstration that behavioral-indices of rapid learning relate to individual differences in brainstem physiology. Sensitivity to statistical structure manifested along a continuum, from adaptation to enhancement, where cABR enhancement (patterned > pseudo-random) tracked with greater rapid statistical learning than adaptation. Short- and long-term auditory experiences (days to years) are known to promote brainstem plasticity and here we provide a conceptual advance by showing that the brainstem is also integral to rapid learning occurring over minutes.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Reading-impaired children have difficulty tapping to a beat. Here we tested whether this relationship between reading ability and synchronized tapping holds in typically-developing adolescents. We also hypothesized that tapping relates to two other abilities. First, since auditory-motor synchronization requires monitoring of the relationship between motor output and auditory input, we predicted that subjects better able to tap to the beat would perform better on attention tests. Second, since auditory-motor synchronization requires fine temporal precision within the auditory system for the extraction of a sound's onset time, we predicted that subjects better able to tap to the beat would be less affected by backward masking, a measure of temporal precision within the auditory system. As predicted, tapping performance related to reading, attention, and backward masking. These results motivate future research investigating whether beat synchronization training can improve not only reading ability, but potentially executive function and auditory processing as well.
Brain and Language 03/2013; 124(3):225-31. · 3.39 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Learning to read proceeds smoothly for most children, yet others struggle to translate verbal language into its written form. Poor readers often have a host of auditory, linguistic, and attention deficits, including abnormal neural representation of speech and inconsistent performance on psychoacoustic tasks. We hypothesize that this constellation of deficits associated with reading disorders arises from the human auditory system failing to respond to sound in a consistent manner, and that this inconsistency impinges upon the ability to relate phonology and orthography during reading. In support of this hypothesis, we show that poor readers have significantly more variable auditory brainstem responses to speech than do good readers, independent of resting neurophysiological noise levels. Thus, neural variability may be an underlying biological contributor to well established behavioral and neural deficits found in poor readers.
Journal of Neuroscience 02/2013; 33(8):3500-4. · 6.91 Impact Factor