Perceptually aligning apical frequency regions leads to more binaural fusion of speech in a cochlear implant simulation

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Abstract

For bilateral cochlear implant users, the left and right arrays are typically not physically aligned, resulting in a degradation of binaural fusion, which can be detrimental to binaural abilities. Perceptually aligning the two arrays can be accomplished by disabling electrodes in one ear that do not have a perceptually corresponding electrode in the other side. However, disabling electrodes at the edges of the array will cause compression of the input frequency range into a smaller cochlear extent, which may result in reduced spectral resolution. An alternative approach to overcome this mismatch would be to only align one edge of the array. By aligning either only the apical or basal end of the arrays, fewer electrodes would be disabled, potentially causing less reduction in spectral resolution. The goal of this study was to determine the relative effect of aligning either the basal or apical end of the electrode with regards to binaural fusion. A vocoder was used to simulate cochlear implant listening conditions in normal hearing listeners. Speech signals were vocoded such that the two ears were either predominantly aligned at only the basal or apical end of the simulated arrays. The experiment was then repeated with a spectrally inverted vocoder to determine whether the detrimental effects on fusion were related to the spectral-temporal characteristics of the stimuli or the location in the cochlea where the misalignment occurred. In Experiment 1, aligning the basal portion of the simulated arrays led to significantly less binaural fusion than aligning the apical portions of the simulated array. However, when the input was spectrally inverted, aligning the apical portion of the simulated array led to significantly less binaural fusion than aligning the basal portions of the simulated arrays. These results suggest that, for speech, with its predominantly low frequency spectral-temporal modulations, it is more important to perceptually align the apical portion of the array to better preserve binaural fusion. By partially aligning these arrays, cochlear implant users could potentially increase their ability to fuse speech sounds presented to the two ears while maximizing spectral resolution.

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