Pitch Perception and Auditory Stream Segregation: Implications for Hearing Loss and Cochlear Implants

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Pitch is important for speech and music perception, and may also play a crucial role in our ability to segregate sounds that arrive from different sources. This article reviews some basic aspects of pitch coding in the normal auditory system and explores the implications for pitch perception in people with hearing impairments and cochlear implants. Data from normal-hearing listeners suggest that the low-frequency, low-numbered harmonics within complex tones are of prime importance in pitch perception and in the perceptual segregation of competing sounds. The poorer frequency selectivity experienced by many hearing-impaired listeners leads to less access to individual harmonics, and the coding schemes currently employed in cochlear implants provide little or no representation of individual harmonics. These deficits in the coding of harmonic sounds may underlie some of the difficulties experienced by people with hearing loss and cochlear implants, and may point to future areas where sound representation in auditory prostheses could be improved.

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