Psychoakustik & experimentelle Audiologie - Laufende Projekte

The auditory system constantly monitors the environment to protect us from harmful events such as collisions with approaching objects. Auditory looming bias is an astoundingly fast perceptual bias favoring approaching compared to receding auditory motion and was demonstrated behaviorally even in infants of four months in age. The role of learning in developing this perceptual bias and its underlying mechanisms are yet to be investigated. Supervised learning and statistical learning are the two distinct mechanisms enabling neural plasticity. In the auditory system, statistical learning refers to the implicit ability to extract and represent regularities, such as frequently occurring sound patterns or frequent acoustic transitions, with or without attention while supervised learning refers to the ability to attentively encode auditory events based on explicit feedback. It is currently unclear how these two mechanisms are involved in learning auditory spatial cues at different stages of life. While newborns already possess basic skills of spatial hearing, adults are still able to adapt to changing circumstances such as modifications of spectral-shape cues. Spectral-shape cues are naturally induced when the complex geometry especially of the human pinna shapes the spectrum of an incoming sound depending on its source location. Auditory stimuli lacking familiarized spectral-shape cues are often perceived to originate from inside the head instead of perceiving them as naturally external sound sources. Changes in the salience or familiarity of spectral-shape cues can thus be used to elicit auditory looming bias. The importance of spectral-shape cues for both auditory looming bias and auditory plasticity makes it ideal for studying them together.

Born2Hear project overview

Born2Hear will combine auditory psychophysics and neurophysiological measures in order to 1) identify auditory cognitive subsystems underlying auditory looming bias, 2) investigate principle cortical mechanisms for statistical and supervised learning of auditory spatial cues, and 3) reveal cognitive and neural mechanisms of auditory plasticity across the human lifespan. These general research questions will be addressed within three studies. Study 1 will investigate the differences in the bottom-up processing of different spatial cues and the top-down attention effects on auditory looming bias by analyzing functional interactions between brain regions in young adults and then test in newborns whether these functional interactions are innate. Study 2 will investigate the cognitive and neural mechanisms of supervised learning of spectral-shape cues in young and older adults based on an individualized perceptual training on sound source localization. Study 3 will focus on the cognitive and neural mechanisms of statistical learning of spectral-shape cues in infants as well as young and older adults.

Key publication: Baumgartner, R., Reed, D.K., Tóth, B., Best, V., Majdak, P., Colburn H.S., Shinn-Cunningham B. (2017): Asymmetries in behavioral and neural responses to spectral cues demonstrate the generality of auditory looming bias, in: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 114, 9743-9748

Project investigator (PI): Robert Baumgartner

Project partner / Co-PI: Brigitta Tóth, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychology, Research Centre for Natural Sciences, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest, Hungary

Collaboration partners:

Duration: April 2020 - March 2024

Supported by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF, I 4294-B) and NKFIH.

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

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Bilateral Cochlear Implants: Physiology and Psychophysics

Current cochlear implants (CIs) are very successful in restoring speech understanding in individuals with profound or complete hearing loss by electrically stimulating the auditory nerve. However, the ability of CI users to localize sound sources and to understand speech in complex listening situations, e.g. with interfering speakers, is dramatically reduced as compared to normal (acoustically) hearing listeners. From acoustic hearing studies it is known that interaural time difference (ITD) cues are essential for sound localization and speech understanding in noise. Users of current bilateral CI systems are, however, rather limited in their ability to perceive salient ITDs cues. One particular problem is that their ITD sensitivity is especially low when stimulating at relatively high pulses rates which are required for proper encoding of speech signals.  

In this project we combine psychophysical studies in human bilaterally implanted listeners and physiological studies in bilaterally implanted animals to find ways in order to improve ITD sensitivity in electric hearing. We build on the previous finding that ITD sensitivity can be enhanced by introducing temporal jitter (Laback and Majdak, 2008) or short inter-pulse intervals (Hancock et al., 2012) in high-rate pulse sequences. Physiological experiments, performed at the Eaton-Peabody Laboratories Neural Coding Group (Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Harvard Medical School, PI: Bertrand Delgutte), are combined with matched psychoacoustic experiments, performed at the EAP group of ARI (PI: Bernhard Laback). The main project milestones are the following:

·         Aim 1: Effects of auditory deprivation and electric stimulation through CI on neural ITD sensitivity. In physiological experiments it is studied if chronic CI stimulation can reverse the effect of neonatal deafness on neural ITD sensitivity.

·         Aim 2: Improving the delivery of ITD information with high-rate strategies for CI processors.

   A. Improving ITD sensitivity at high pulse rates by introducing short inter-pulse intervals

   B. Using short inter-pulse intervals to enhance ITD sensitivity with “pseudo-syllable” stimuli.

Co-operation partners:

·         External: Eaton-Peabody Laboratories Neural Coding Group des Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary an der Harvard Medical School (PI: Bertrand Delgutte)

·         Internal: Mathematik und Signalverarbeitung in der Akustik

Funding:

·      This project is funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH). http://grantome.com/grant/NIH/R01-DC005775-11A1

·      It is planned to run from 2014 to 2019.

Press information:

·      Article in DER STANDARD: http://derstandard.at/2000006635467/OeAW-und-Harvard-Medical-School-forschenCochleaimplantaten

·      Article in DIE PRESSE: http://diepresse.com/home/science/3893396/Eine-Prothese-die-in-der-Horschnecke-sitzt

·      OEAW website: http://www.oeaw.ac.at/oesterreichische-akademie-der-wissenschaften/news/article/transatlantische-hoerhilfe/

Publications

See Also

ITD MultEl

ITD MultEl: Binaural-Timing Sensitivity in Multi-Electrode Stimulation

Binaural hearing is extremely important in everyday life, most notably for sound localization and for understanding speech embedded in competing sound sources (e.g., other speech sources). While bilateral implantation has been shown to provide cochlear implant (CIs) listeners with some basic left/right localization ability, the performance with current CI systems is clearly reduced compared to normal hearing. Moreover, the binaural advantage in speech understanding in noise has been shown to be mediated mainly by the better-ear effect, while there is only very little binaural unmasking.

There exists now a body of literature on binaural sensitivity of CI listeners stimulated at a single interaural electrode pair. However, the CI listener’s sensitivity to binaural cues under more realistic conditions, i.e., with stimulation at multiple electrodes, has not been systematically addressed in depth so far.

This project attempts to fill this gap. In particular, given the high perceptual importance of ITDs, this project focuses on the systematic investigation of the sensitivity to ITD under various conditions of multi-electrode stimulation, including interference from neighboring channels, integration of ITD information across channels, and the perceptually tolerable room for degradations of binaural timing information.

Involved people:

Start: January 2013

Duration: 3 years

Funding: MED-EL

Objective and Methods:

This project cluster includes several studies on the perception of interaural time differences (ITD) in cochlear implant (CI), hearing impaired (HI), and normal hearing (NH) listeners. Studying different groups of listeners allows for identification of the factors that are most important to ITD perception. Furthermore, the comparison between the groups allows for the development of strategies to improve ITD sensitivity in CI and HI listeners.

Subprojects:

  • FsGd: Effects of ITD in Ongoing, Onset, and Offset in Cochlear Implant Listeners
  • ITD Sync: Effects of interaural time difference in fine structure and envelope on lateral discrimination in electric hearing
  • ITD Jitter CI: Recovery from binaural adaptation with cochlear implants
  • ITD Jitter NH: Recovery from binaural adaptation in normal hearing
  • ITD Jitter HI: Recovery from binaural adaptation with sensorineural hearing impairment
  • ITD CF: Effect of center frequency and rate on the sensitivity to interaural delay in high-frequency click trains
  • IID-CI: Perception of Interaural Intensity Differences by Cochlear Implant Listeners

   

Localization of sound sources is an important task of the human auditory system and much research effort has been put into the development of audio devices for virtual acoustics, i.e. the reproduction of spatial sounds via headphones. Even though the process of sound localization is not completely understood yet, it is possible to simulate spatial sounds via headphones by using head-related transfer functions (HRTFs). HRTFs describe the filtering of the incoming sound due to head, torso and particularly the pinna and thus they strongly depend on the particular details in the listener's geometry. In general, for realistic spatial-sound reproduction via headphones, the individual HRTFs must be measured. As of 2012, the available HRTF acquisition methods were acoustic measurements: a technically-complex process, involving placing microphones into the listener's ears, and lasting for tens of minutes.

In LocaPhoto, we were working on an easily accessible method to acquire and evaluate listener-specific HRTFs. The idea was to numerically calculate HRTFs based on a geometrical representation of the listener (3-D mesh) obtained from 2-D photos by means of photogrammetric reconstruction.

As a result, we have developed a software package for numerical HRTF calculations, a method for geometry acquisition, and models able to evaluate HRTFs in terms of broadband ITDs and sagittal-plane sound localization performance.

 

Further information:

http://www.kfs.oeaw.ac.at/LocaPhoto

 

The spatially oriented format for acoustics (SOFA) is dedicated to store all kinds of acoustic informations related to a specified geometrical setup. The main task is to describe simple HRTF measurements, but SOFA also aims to provide the functionality to store measurements of something fancy like BRIRs with a 64-channel mic-array in a multi-source excitation situation or directivity measurement of a loudspeaker. The format is intended to be easily extendable, highly portable, and actually the greatest common divider of all publicly available HRTF databases at the moment of writing.

SOFA defines the structure of data and meta data and stores them in a numerical container. The data description will be a hierarchical description when coming from free-field HRTFs (simple setup) and going to more complex setups like mic-array measurements in reverberant spaces, excited by a loudspeaker array (complex setup). We will use global geometry description (related to the room), and local geometry description (related to the listener/source) without limiting the number of acoustic transmitters and receivers. Room descriptions will be available by linking a CAD file within SOFA. Networking support will be provided as well allowing to remotely access HRTFs and BRIRs from client computers.

SOFA is being developed by many contributors worldwide. The development is coordinated at ARI by Piotr Majdak.

Further information:

www.sofaconventions.org.

Objective:

Bilateral use of current cochlear implant (CI) systems allows for the localization of sound sources in the left-right dimension. However, localization in the front-back and up-down dimensions (within the so-called sagittal planes) is restricted as a result of insufficient transmission of the relevant information.

Method:

In normal hearing listeners, localization within the sagittal planes is mediated when the pinna (outer ear) evaluates the spectral coloring of incoming waveforms at higher frequencies. Current CI systems do not provide these so-called pinna cues (or spectral cues), because of behind-the-ear microphone placement and the processor's limited analysis-frequency range.

While these technical limitations are relatively manageable, some fundamental questions arise:

  • What is the minimum number of channels required to encode the pinna cues relevant to vertical plane localization?
  • To what extent can CI listeners learn to localize sound sources using pinna cues that are mapped to tonotopic regions associated with lower characteristic frequencies (according to the position of typically implanted electrodes)?
  • Which modifications of stimulation strategies are required to facilitate the localization of sound sources for CI listeners?

Application:

The improvement of sound source localization in the front-back dimension is regarded as an important aspect in daily traffic safety.

Funding:

FWF (Austrian Science Fund): Project #P18401-B15

Status:

Finished in Sept. 2010

Subprojects:

  • ElecRang: Effects of upper-frequency boundary and spectral warping on speech intelligibility in electrical stimulation
  • SpecSens: Sensitivity to spectral peaks and notches
  • Loca-BtE-CI: Localization with behind-the-ear microphones
  • Loca Methods: Pointer method for localizing sound sources
  • Loca#Channels: Number of channels required for median place localization
  • SpatStrat: Development and evaluation of a spatialization strategy for cochlear implants
  • HRTF-Sim: Numerical simulation of HRTFs

BiPhase:  Binaural Hearing and the Cochlear Phase Response

Project Description

While it is often assumed that our auditory system is phase-deaf, there is a body of literature showing that listeners are very sensitive to phase differences between spectral components of a sound. Particularly, for spectral components falling into the same perceptual filter, the so-called auditory filter, a change in relative phase across components causes a change in the temporal pattern at the output of the filter. The phase response of the auditory filter is thus important for any auditory tasks that rely on within-channel temporal envelope information, most notably temporal pitch or interaural time differences.

Within-channel phase sensitivity has been used to derive a psychophysical measure of the phase response of auditory filters (Kohlrausch and Sanders, 1995). The basic idea of the widely used masking paradigm is that a harmonic complex whose phase curvature roughly mirrors the phase response of the auditory filter spectrally centered on the complex causes a maximally modulated (peaked) internal representation and, thus, elicits minimal masking of a pure tone target at the same center frequency. Therefore, systematic variation of the phase curvature of the harmonic complex (the masker) allows to estimate the auditory filter’s phase response: the masker phase curvature causing minimal masking reflects the mirrored phase response of the auditory filter.

Besides the obvious importance of detecting the target in the temporal dips of the masker, particularly of the target is short compared to the modulation period of the masker (Kohlrausch and Sanders, 1995), there are several indications that fast compression in the cochlea is important to obtain the masker-phase effect (e.g., Carlyon and Datta, 1997; Oxenham and Dau, 2004). One indication is that listeners with sensorineural hearing impairment (HI), characterized by reduced or absent cochlear compression due to loss of outer hair cells, show only a very weak masker-phase effect, making it difficult to estimate the cochlear phase response.

In the BiPhase project we propose a new paradigm for measuring the cochlear phase response that does not rely on cochlear compression and thus should be applicable in HI listeners. It relies on the idea that the amount of modulation (peakedness) in the internal representation of a harmonic complex, as given by its phase curvature, determines the listener’s sensitivity to envelope interaural time difference (ITD) imposed on the stimulus. Assuming that listener’s sensitivity to envelope ITD does not rely on compression, systematic variation of the stimulus phase curvature should allow to estimate the cochlear phase response both in normal-hearing (NH) and HI listeners. The main goals of BiPhase are the following:

  • Aim 1: Assessment of the importance of cochlear compression for the masker-phase effect at different masker levels. Masking experiments are performed with NH listeners using Schroeder-phase harmonic complexes with and without a precursor stimulus, intended to reduce cochlear compression by activation of the efferent system controlling outer-hair cell activity. In addition, a quantitative model approach is used to estimate the contribution of compression from outer hair cell activity and other factors to the masker-phase effect. The results are described in Tabuchi, Laback, Necciari, and Majdak (2016). A follow-up study on the dependency of the masker-phase effect on masker and target duration, the target’s position within the masker, the masker level, and the masker bandwidth and conclusions on the role of compression of underlying mechanisms in simultaneous and forward masking is underway.
  • Aim 2: Development and evaluation of an envelope ITD-based paradigm to estimate the cochlear phase response. The experimental results on NH listeners, complemented with a modeling approach and predictions, are described in Tabuchi and Laback (2017). This paper also provides model predictions for HI listeners.
    Besides the consistency of the overall pattern of ITD thresholds across phase curvatures with data on the masking paradigm and predictions of the envelope ITD model, an unexpected peak in the ITD thresholds was found for a negative phase curvature which was not predicted by the ITD model and is not found in masking data. Furthermore, the pattern of results for individual listeners appeared to reveal more variability than the masking paradigm. Data were also collected with an alternative method, relying on the extent of laterality of a target with supra-threshold ITD, as measured with an interaural-level-difference-based pointing stimulus. These data showed no nonmonotonic behavior at negative phase curvatures. Rather, they showed good correspondence with the ITD model prediction and more consistent results across individuals compared to the ITD threshold-based method (Zenke, Laback, and Tabuchi, 2016).
  • Aim 3: Development of a ITD-based method to account for potentially non-uniform curvatures of the phase response in HI listeners. Using two independent iterative approaches, NH listeners adjusted the phase of individual harmonics of an ITD-carrying complex so that it elicited maximum extent of laterality. Although the pattern of adjusted phases very roughly resembled the expected pattern, there was a large amount of uncertainty (Zenke, 2014), preventing the method from further use. Modified versions of the method will be considered in a future study.

Funding

This project is funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF, Project # P24183-N24, awarded to Bernhard Laback). It run from 2013 to 2017

Publications

Peer-reviewed papers

  • Tabuchi, H. and Laback, B. (2017): Psychophysical and modeling approaches towards determining the cochlear phase response based on interaural time differences, The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 141, 4314–4331.
  • Tabuchi, H., Laback, B., Necciari, T., and Majdak, P (2016). The role of compression in the simultaneous masker phase effect, The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 140, 2680-2694.

Conference talks

  • Tabuchi, H., Laback, B., Majdak, P., and Necciari, T. (2014). The role of precursor in tone detection with Schroeder-phase complex maskers. Poster presented at 37th Association for Research in Otolaryngology (ARO) Meeting, San Diego, California.
  • Tabuchi, H., Laback, B., Majdak, P., and Necciari, T. (2014). The perceptual consequences of a precursor on tone detection with Schroeder-phase harmonic maskers. Invited talk at Alps Adria Acoustics Association, Graz, Austria.
  • Tabuchi, H., Laback, B., Majdak, P., Necciari, T., and Zenke,K. (2015). Measuring the auditory phase response based on interaural time differences. Talk at 169th Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
  • Zenke, K., Laback, B., and Tabuchi, H. (2016). Towards an Efficient Method to Derive the Phase Response in Hearing-Impaired Listeners. Talk at 37th Association for Research in Otolaryngology (ARO) Meeting, San Diego, California.
  • Tabuchi, H., Laback, B., Majdak, P., Necciari, T., and Zenke, K. (2016). Modeling the cochlear phase response estimated in a binaural task. Talk at 39th Association for Research in Otolaryngology (ARO) Meeting, San Diego, California.
  • Laback, B., and Tabuchi, H. (2017). Psychophysical and modeling approaches towards determining the cochlear phase response based on interaural time differences. Invited Talk at AABBA Meeting, Vienna, Austria.
  • Laback, B., and Tabuchi, H. (2017). Psychophysical and Modeling Approaches towards determining the Cochlear Phase Response based on Interaural Time Differences. Invited Talk at 3rd Workshop “Cognitive neuroscience of auditory and cross-modal perception, Kosice, Slovakia.

References

  • Carlyon, R. P., and Datta, A. J. (1997). "Excitation produced by Schroeder-phase complexes: evidence for fast-acting compression in the auditory system," J Acoust Soc Am 101, 3636-3647.
  • Kohlrausch, A., and Sander, A. (1995). "Phase effects in masking related to dispersion in the inner ear. II. Masking period patterns of short targets," J Acoust Soc Am 97, 1817-1829.
  • Oxenham, A. J., and Dau, T. (2004). "Masker phase effects in normal-hearing and hearing-impaired listeners: evidence for peripheral compression at low signal frequencies," J Acoust Soc Am 116, 2248-2257.

See also

Potion

Objective:

Bilateral use of current cochlear implant (CI) systems allows for the localization of sound sources in the left-right dimension. However, localization in the front-back and up-down dimensions (within the so-called sagittal planes) is restricted as a result of insufficient transmission of the relevant information.