Reweighting of Binaural Cues: Generalizability and Applications in Cochlear Implant Listening

Normal-hearing (NH) listeners use two binaural cues, the interaural time difference (ITD) and the interaural level difference (ILD), for sound localization in the horizontal plane. They apply frequency-dependent weights when combining them to determine the perceived azimuth of a sound source. Cochlear implant (CI) listeners, however, rely almost entirely on ILDs. This is partly due to the properties of current envelope-based CI-systems, which do not explicitly encode carrier ITDs. However, even if they are artificially conveyed via a research system, CI listeners perform worse on average than NH listeners. Since current CI-systems do not reliably convey ITD information, CI listeners might learn to ignore ITDs and focus on ILDs instead. A recent study in our lab provided first evidence that such reweighting of binaural cues is possible in NH listeners.

This project aims to further investigate the phenomenon: First, we will test whether a changed ITD/ILD weighting will generalize to different frequency regions. Second, the effect of ITD/ILD reweighting on spatial release from speech-on-speech masking will be investigated, as listeners benefit particularly from ITDs in such tasks. And third, we will test, whether CI listeners can also be trained to weight ITDs more strongly and whether that translates to an increase in ITD sensitivity. Additionally, we will explore and evaluate different training methods to induce ITD/ILD reweighting.

The results are expected to shed further light on the plasticity of the binaural auditory system in acoustic and electric hearing.

Start: October 2018

Duration: 3 years

Funding: uni:docs fellowship program for doctoral candidates of the University of Vienna