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Front Hum Neurosci. 2017 Feb 24;11:88. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2017.00088. eCollection 2017.

Cortical Alpha Oscillations Predict Speech Intelligibility.

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Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, Sunnybrook Health Sciences CentreToronto, ON, Canada; Hurvitz Brain Sciences, Evaluative Clinical Sciences, Sunnybrook Research InstituteToronto, ON, Canada; Faculty of Medicine, Otolaryngology-Head and Neck SurgeryUniversity of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada.
Communication Sciences Research Center, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical CenterCincinnati, OH, USA; Speech and Hearing Sciences, University of WashingtonSeattle, WA, USA.
Pediatric Neuroimaging Research Consortium, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical CenterCincinnati, OH, USA; Division of Neurology, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical CenterCincinnati, OH, USA; Department of Pediatrics, University of Cincinnati, College of MedicineCincinnati, OH, USA.
Communication Sciences Research Center, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical CenterCincinnati, OH, USA; Department of Otolaryngology, University of CincinnatiCincinnati, OH, USA.


Understanding speech in noise (SiN) is a complex task involving sensory encoding and cognitive resources including working memory and attention. Previous work has shown that brain oscillations, particularly alpha rhythms (8-12 Hz) play important roles in sensory processes involving working memory and attention. However, no previous study has examined brain oscillations during performance of a continuous speech perception test. The aim of this study was to measure cortical alpha during attentive listening in a commonly used SiN task (digits-in-noise, DiN) to better understand the neural processes associated with "top-down" cognitive processing in adverse listening environments. We recruited 14 normal hearing (NH) young adults. DiN speech reception threshold (SRT) was measured in an initial behavioral experiment. EEG activity was then collected: (i) while performing the DiN near SRT; and (ii) while attending to a silent, close-caption video during presentation of identical digit stimuli that the participant was instructed to ignore. Three main results were obtained: (1) during attentive ("active") listening to the DiN, a number of distinct neural oscillations were observed (mainly alpha with some beta; 15-30 Hz). No oscillations were observed during attention to the video ("passive" listening); (2) overall, alpha event-related synchronization (ERS) of central/parietal sources were observed during active listening when data were grand averaged across all participants. In some participants, a smaller magnitude alpha event-related desynchronization (ERD), originating in temporal regions, was observed; and (3) when individual EEG trials were sorted according to correct and incorrect digit identification, the temporal alpha ERD was consistently greater on correctly identified trials. No such consistency was observed with the central/parietal alpha ERS. These data demonstrate that changes in alpha activity are specific to listening conditions. To our knowledge, this is the first report that shows almost no brain oscillatory changes during a passive task compared to an active task in any sensory modality. Temporal alpha ERD was related to correct digit identification.


EEG; attention; brain; digits in noise; hearing; speech in noise

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