Forward Masking of the Speech-Evoked Auditory Brainstem Response

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Hypothesis:The hypothesis tested was that forward masking of the speech-evoked auditory brainstem response (sABR) increases peak latency as an inverse function of masker-signal interval (Δt), and that the overall persistence of forward masking is age dependent.Background:Older listeners exhibit deficits in forward masking. If forward-masked sABRs provide an objective measure of the susceptibility of speech sounds to prior stimulation, then this provides a novel approach to examining the age dependence of temporal processing.Methods:A /da/ stimulus forward masked by speech-shaped noise (Δt = 4–64 ms) was used to measure sABRs in 10 younger and nine older participants. Forward masking of subsegments of the /da/ stimulus (Δt = 16 ms) and click trains (Δt = 0–64 ms) was also measured.Results:Forward-masked sABRs from young participants showed an increase in latency with decreasing Δt for the initial peak. Latency shifts for later peaks were smaller and more uniform. None of the peak latencies returned to baseline by Δt = 64 ms. Forward-masked /da/ subsegments showed peak latency shifts that did not depend simply on peak position, while forward-masked click trains showed latency shifts that were dependent on click position. The sABRs from older adults were less robust but confirmed the viability of the approach.Conclusion:Forward masking of the sABR provides an objective measure of the susceptibility of the auditory system to prior stimulation. Failure of recovery functions to return to baseline suggests an interaction between forward masking by the prior masker and temporal effects within the stimulus itself.

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