Contralateral Interference Caused by Binaurally Presented Competing Speech in Adult Bilateral Cochlear-Implant Users

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Bilateral cochlear implants (BI-CIs) are intended to improve sound localization and speech understanding in the presence of interfering sounds. For normal-hearing listeners, improved speech understanding in the presence of interfering sounds can be achieved with monaural head shadow and binaural unmasking. While some BI-CI listeners experience binaural unmasking under certain testing conditions, others appear to not. This study tested a group of BI-CI users with hearing histories that have been linked to poor binaural processing—early onset of deafness or long duration of deafness in just one ear. We predicted that these listeners would experience the opposite of binaural unmasking (i.e., contralateral interference) when trying to understand speech in the presence of a competing talker.


Nine adult BI-CI users who were deafened early in life or had an asymmetric hearing history (e.g., a much longer duration of deafness in one ear) participated in this study. The coordinate response measure corpus was used to assess speech understanding for a male target talker in quiet or in the presence of one male competing talker. Experiment 1 measured binaural unmasking in a paradigm that provided no head-shadow component. The target was always presented monaurally, while the interferer was presented either monaurally or diotically. Experiment 2 measured spatial release from masking in a paradigm that included both a head-shadow component and possible binaural-unmasking component. Nonindividualized head-related transfer functions were used to simulate talker locations in the front or 90° to the left or right.


In experiment 1, all nine listeners experienced contralateral interference (9 dB on average). Four listeners demonstrated roughly symmetric contralateral interference; five listeners experienced asymmetrical contralateral interference. In experiment 2, the listeners experienced only 1 dB of spatial release from masking on average; this small amount was possibly a result of the contralateral interference observed in experiment 1. The results were best explained by individual differences in speech understanding in quiet, which significantly correlated with the duration of deafness in the ipsilateral ear. Specifically, instances of asymmetrical contralateral interference could correspond to asymmetrical hearing histories.


Bilateral cochlear implantation should provide a hearing benefit to the recipient. For the BI-CI listeners specifically recruited for this study, there seems to be a conflict with processing the auditory information across the two ears, which produced the opposite of the desired hearing benefit. This suggests that there may be a subset of potential BI-CI users for whom contralateral interference offsets much of the potential head-shadow benefit. If so, earlier implantation in the second implanted ear might have produced larger binaural benefits, which is important information for clinicians advising patients considering bilateral implantation.

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