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J Assoc Res Otolaryngol. 2012 Oct;13(5):683-92. doi: 10.1007/s10162-012-0334-3. Epub 2012 May 9.

Effect of speech degradation on top-down repair: phonemic restoration with simulations of cochlear implants and combined electric-acoustic stimulation.

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Department of Otorhinolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery, University Medical Center Groningen, PO Box 30.001, 9700 RB, Groningen, The Netherlands.


The brain, using expectations, linguistic knowledge, and context, can perceptually restore inaudible portions of speech. Such top-down repair is thought to enhance speech intelligibility in noisy environments. Hearing-impaired listeners with cochlear implants commonly complain about not understanding speech in noise. We hypothesized that the degradations in the bottom-up speech signals due to the implant signal processing may have a negative effect on the top-down repair mechanisms, which could partially be responsible for this complaint. To test the hypothesis, phonemic restoration of interrupted sentences was measured with young normal-hearing listeners using a noise-band vocoder simulation of implant processing. Decreasing the spectral resolution (by reducing the number of vocoder processing channels from 32 to 4) systematically degraded the speech stimuli. Supporting the hypothesis, the size of the restoration benefit varied as a function of spectral resolution. A significant benefit was observed only at the highest spectral resolution of 32 channels. With eight channels, which resembles the resolution available to most implant users, there was no significant restoration effect. Combined electric-acoustic hearing has been previously shown to provide better intelligibility of speech in adverse listening environments. In a second configuration, combined electric-acoustic hearing was simulated by adding low-pass-filtered acoustic speech to the vocoder processing. There was a slight improvement in phonemic restoration compared to the first configuration; the restoration benefit was observed at spectral resolutions of both 16 and 32 channels. However, the restoration was not observed at lower spectral resolutions (four or eight channels). Overall, the findings imply that the degradations in the bottom-up signals alone (such as occurs in cochlear implants) may reduce the top-down restoration of speech.

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