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J Neurosci. 2004 Apr 28;24(17):4163-71.

Contribution of head shadow and pinna cues to chronic monaural sound localization.

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  • 1Department of Medical Physics and Biophysics, University of Nijmegen, 6525 EZ Nijmegen, The Netherlands.


Monaurally deaf people lack the binaural acoustic difference cues in sound level and timing that are needed to encode sound location in the horizontal plane (azimuth). It has been proposed that these people therefore rely on spectral pinna cues of their normal ear to localize sounds. However, the acoustic head-shadow effect (HSE) might also serve as an azimuth cue, despite its ambiguity when absolute sound levels are unknown. Here, we assess the contribution of either cue in the monaural deaf to two-dimensional (2D) sound localization. In a localization test with randomly interleaved sound levels, we show that all monaurally deaf listeners relied heavily on the HSE, whereas binaural control listeners ignore this cue. However, some monaural listeners responded partly to actual sound-source azimuth, regardless of sound level. We show that these listeners extracted azimuth information from their pinna cues. The better monaural listeners were able to localize azimuth on the basis of spectral cues, the better their ability to also localize sound-source elevation. In a subsequent localization experiment with one fixed sound level, monaural listeners rapidly adopted a strategy on the basis of the HSE. We conclude that monaural spectral cues are not sufficient for adequate 2D sound localization under unfamiliar acoustic conditions. Thus, monaural listeners strongly rely on the ambiguous HSE, which may help them to cope with familiar acoustic environments.

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