Nina Kraus

Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, United States

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Publications (265)850.07 Total impact

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    ABSTRACT: Differentiating between voices is a basic social skill humans acquire early in life. The current study aimed to understand the subcortical mechanisms of voice processing by focusing on the two most important acoustical voice features: the fundamental frequency (F0) and harmonics. We measured frequency following responses in a group of young adults to a naturally produced speech syllable under two linguistic contexts: same-syllable and multiple-syllable. Compared to the same-syllable context, the multiple-syllable context contained more speech cues to aid voice processing. We analyzed the magnitude of the response to the F0 and harmonics between same-talker and multiple-talker conditions within each linguistic context. Results establish that the human auditory brainstem is sensitive to different talkers as shown by enhanced harmonic responses under the multiple-talker compared to the same-talker condition, when the stimulus stream contained multiple syllables. This study thus provides the first electrophysiological evidence of the auditory brainstem's sensitivity to human voices. Copyright © 2015. Published by Elsevier B.V.
    International journal of psychophysiology: official journal of the International Organization of Psychophysiology 01/2015; · 3.05 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Selective attention decreases trial-to-trial variability in cortical auditory-evoked activity. This effect increases over the course of maturation, potentially reflecting the gradual development of selective attention and inhibitory control. Work in adults indicates that music training may alter the development of this neural response characteristic, especially over brain regions associated with executive control: in adult musicians, attention decreases variability in auditory-evoked responses recorded over prefrontal cortex to a greater extent than in nonmusicians. We aimed to determine whether this musician-associated effect emerges during childhood, when selective attention and inhibitory control are under development. We compared cortical auditory-evoked variability to attended and ignored speech streams in musicians and nonmusicians across three age groups: preschoolers, school-aged children and young adults. Results reveal that childhood music training is associated with reduced auditory-evoked response variability recorded over prefrontal cortex during selective auditory attention in school-aged child and adult musicians. Preschoolers, on the other hand, demonstrate no impact of selective attention on cortical response variability and no musician distinctions. This finding is consistent with the gradual emergence of attention during this period and suggests no pre-existing differences in this attention-related cortical metric between children who undergo music training from those who do not.
    Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience 01/2015; 110. · 3.71 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Click-evoked auditory brainstem responses (ABRs) are a valuable tool for probing auditory system function and development. Although it has long been thought that the human auditory brainstem is fully mature by age 2 yr, recent evidence indicates a prolonged developmental trajectory. The purpose of this study was to determine the time course of ABR maturation in a preschool population and fill a gap in the knowledge of development. Using a cross-sectional design, we investigated the effect of age on absolute latencies, interwave latencies, and amplitudes (waves I, III, V) of the click-evoked ABR. A total of 71 preschoolers (ages 3.12-4.99 yr) participated in the study. All had normal peripheral auditory function and IQ. ABRs to a rarefaction click stimulus presented at 31/sec and 80 dB SPL (73 dB nHL) were recorded monaurally using clinically-standard recording and filtering procedures while the participant sat watching a movie. Absolute latencies, interwave latencies, and amplitudes were then correlated to age. Developmental changes were restricted to absolute latencies. Wave V latency decreased significantly with age, whereas wave I and III latencies remained stable, even in this restricted age range. The ABR does not remain static after age 2 yr, as seen by a systematic decrease in wave V latency between ages 3 and 5 yr. This finding suggests that the human brainstem has a continued developmental time course during the preschool years. Latency changes in the age 3-5 yr range should be considered when using ABRs as a metric of hearing health. American Academy of Audiology.
    Journal of the American Academy of Audiology 01/2015; 26(1):30-5. · 1.59 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Children from disadvantaged backgrounds often face impoverished auditory environments, such as greater exposure to ambient noise and fewer opportunities to participate in complex language interactions during development. These circumstances increase their risk for academic failure and dropout. Given the academic and neural benefits associated with musicianship, music training may be one method for providing auditory enrichment to children from disadvantaged backgrounds. We followed a group of primary-school students from gang reduction zones in Los Angeles, CA, USA for 2 years as they participated in Harmony Project. By providing free community music instruction for disadvantaged children, Harmony Project promotes the healthy development of children as learners, the development of children as ambassadors of peace and understanding, and the development of stronger communities. Children who were more engaged in the music program-as defined by better attendance and classroom participation-developed stronger brain encoding of speech after 2 years than their less-engaged peers in the program. Additionally, children who were more engaged in the program showed increases in reading scores, while those less engaged did not show improvements. The neural gains accompanying music engagement were seen in the very measures of neural speech processing that are weaker in children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Our results suggest that community music programs such as Harmony Project provide a form of auditory enrichment that counteracts some of the biological adversities of growing up in poverty, and can further support community-based interventions aimed at improving child health and wellness.
    Frontiers in Psychology 12/2014; 5:1403. · 2.80 Impact Factor
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    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. 12/2014; 4(4):575-593.
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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 11/2014; 8:949. · 2.90 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 11/2014; 9(11):e113383. · 3.53 Impact Factor
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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; · 2.06 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 11/2014; 8:351.
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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 09/2014; · 9.81 Impact Factor
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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.
    Journal of Neuroscience 09/2014; 34(36):11913-8. · 6.75 Impact Factor
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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 09/2014; · 3.45 Impact Factor
  • 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; · 4.69 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. · 3.31 Impact Factor
  • Nina Kraus, Samira Anderson
    The Hearing journal. 01/2014; 67(1):3.
  • Nina Kraus, Samira Anderson
    Hearing Journal 01/2014; 67(3):48.
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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
  • Travis White-Schwoch, Nina Kraus
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    ABSTRACT: Reading development builds upon the accurate representation of the phonological structure of spoken language. This representation and its neural foundations have been studied extensively with respect to reading due to pervasive performance deficits on basic phonological tasks observed in children with dyslexia. The subcortical auditory system - a site of intersection for sensory and cognitive input - is exquisitely tuned to code fine timing differences between phonemes, and so likely plays a foundational role in the development of phonological processing and, eventually, reading. This temporal coding of speech varies systematically with reading ability in school age children. Little is known, however, about subcortical speech representation in pre-school age children. We measured auditory brainstem responses to the stop consonants [ba] and [ga] in a cohort of 4-year-old children and assessed their phonological skills. In a typical auditory system, brainstem responses to [ba] and [ga] are out of phase (i.e., differ in time) due to formant frequency differences in the consonant-vowel transitions of the stimuli. We found that children who performed worst on the phonological awareness task insufficiently code this difference, revealing a physiologic link between early phonological skills and the neural representation of speech. We discuss this finding in light of existing theories of the role of the auditory system in developmental dyslexia, and argue for a systems-level perspective for understanding the importance of precise temporal coding for learning to read.
    Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 12/2013; 7:899. · 2.90 Impact Factor
    This article is viewable in ResearchGate's enriched format

Publication Stats

9k Citations
850.07 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
  • 1982–2009
    • University of Chicago
      • Department of Pediatrics
      Chicago, Illinois, 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
    • 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
      • Department of Psychology
      Декалб, Illinois, United States