Spectro-temporal cues enhance modulation sensitivity in cochlear implant users
Although speech understanding is highly variable amongst cochlear implants (CIs) subjects, the remarkably high speech recognition performance of many CI users is unexpected and not well understood. Numerous factors, including neural health and degradation of the spectral information in the speech signal of CIs, likely contribute to speech understanding. We studied the ability to use spectro-temporal modulations, which may be critical for speech understanding and discrimination, and hypothesize that CI users adopt a different perceptual strategy than normal-hearing (NH) individuals, whereby they rely more heavily on joint spectro-temporal cues to enhance detection of auditory cues. Modulation detection sensitivity was studied in CI users and NH subjects using broadband “ripple” stimuli that were modulated spectrally, temporally, or jointly, i.e., spectro-temporally. The spectro-temporal modulation transfer functions of CI users and NH subjects was decomposed into spectral and temporal dimensions and compared to those subjects' spectral-only and temporal-only modulation transfer functions. In CI users, the joint spectro-temporal sensitivity was better than that predicted by spectral-only and temporal-only sensitivity, indicating a heightened spectro-temporal sensitivity. Such an enhancement through the combined integration of spectral and temporal cues was not observed in NH subjects. The unique use of spectro-temporal cues by CI patients can yield benefits for use of cues that are important for speech understanding. This finding has implications for developing sound processing strategies that may rely on joint spectro-temporal modulations to improve speech comprehension of CI users, and the findings of this study may be valuable for developing clinical assessment tools to optimize CI processor performance.