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Several studies reported decreased signal intensities within auditory areas for experimental designs employing continuous scanner background noise (SBN) in comparison to designs with less or no SBN. This study examined the source for this SBN-induced masking effect of the blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) response by directly comparing two experimental sessions with the same auditory stimulation, which was presented either with or without recorded scanner background noise (RecSBN). Ten subjects listened to a series of four one-syllable words and had to decide whether two of the words were identical. The words were either presented with a silent background or with added RecSBN. This was then contrasted with either silence or RecSBN. A sparse temporal sampling method was used in both sessions, which enabled us to directly assess the influence of RecSBN without varying scanning parameters, acquisition quantities, or auditory stimulations. Our results suggest that previously reported SBN-induced masking of the BOLD response in experimental designs with SBN might be caused by an interaction between increased baseline levels and nonlinearity effects within auditory cortices. Adding SBN to an experimental condition does not enhance signal intensities to the same degree that SBN does when presented with a silent background, and therefore contrasting an experimental and baseline condition that both have SBN may lead to signal decreases. In addition, our study shows this effect is greatest in Heschl's gyrus, but can also be observed in higher-order auditory areas. Hum Brain Mapp, 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.