Nina Kraus

Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, United States

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Publications (250)814.94 Total impact

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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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    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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    Hearing research 01/2014; · 2.18 Impact Factor
  • 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: 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
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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
  • Adam Tierney, Nina Kraus
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    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
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    Dana L Strait, Nina Kraus
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    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.
    Hearing research 08/2013; · 2.18 Impact Factor
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    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.
    Developmental cognitive neuroscience. 06/2013; 6C:51-60.
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    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
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    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.
    Cerebral Cortex 04/2013; · 8.31 Impact Factor

Publication Stats

8k Citations
814.94 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