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      Musical Experience and the Aging Auditory System: Implications for Cognitive Abilities and Hearing Speech in Noise

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          Much of our daily communication occurs in the presence of background noise, compromising our ability to hear. While understanding speech in noise is a challenge for everyone, it becomes increasingly difficult as we age. Although aging is generally accompanied by hearing loss, this perceptual decline cannot fully account for the difficulties experienced by older adults for hearing in noise. Decreased cognitive skills concurrent with reduced perceptual acuity are thought to contribute to the difficulty older adults experience understanding speech in noise. Given that musical experience positively impacts speech perception in noise in young adults (ages 18–30), we asked whether musical experience benefits an older cohort of musicians (ages 45–65), potentially offsetting the age-related decline in speech-in-noise perceptual abilities and associated cognitive function (i.e., working memory). Consistent with performance in young adults, older musicians demonstrated enhanced speech-in-noise perception relative to nonmusicians along with greater auditory, but not visual, working memory capacity. By demonstrating that speech-in-noise perception and related cognitive function are enhanced in older musicians, our results imply that musical training may reduce the impact of age-related auditory decline.

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          Most cited references 110

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          Music training for the development of auditory skills.

          The effects of music training in relation to brain plasticity have caused excitement, evident from the popularity of books on this topic among scientists and the general public. Neuroscience research has shown that music training leads to changes throughout the auditory system that prime musicians for listening challenges beyond music processing. This effect of music training suggests that, akin to physical exercise and its impact on body fitness, music is a resource that tones the brain for auditory fitness. Therefore, the role of music in shaping individual development deserves consideration.
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            Development of the Hearing in Noise Test for the measurement of speech reception thresholds in quiet and in noise.

            A large set of sentence materials, chosen for their uniformity in length and representation of natural speech, has been developed for the measurement of sentence speech reception thresholds (sSRTs). The mean-squared level of each digitally recorded sentence was adjusted to equate intelligibility when presented in spectrally matched noise to normal-hearing listeners. These materials were cast into 25 phonemically balanced lists of ten sentences for adaptive measurement of sentence sSRTs. The 95% confidence interval for these measurements is +/- 2.98 dB for sSRTs in quiet and +/- 2.41 dB for sSRTs in noise, as defined by the variability of repeated measures with different lists. Average sSRTs in quiet were 23.91 dB(A). Average sSRTs in 72 dB(A) noise were 69.08 dB(A), or -2.92 dB signal/noise ratio. Low-pass filtering increased sSRTs slightly in quiet and noise as the 4- and 8-kHz octave bands were eliminated. Much larger increases in SRT occurred when the 2-kHz octave band was eliminated, and bandwidth dropped below 2.5 kHz. Reliability was not degraded substantially until bandwidth dropped below 2.5 kHz. The statistical reliability and efficiency of the test suit it to practical applications in which measures of speech intelligibility are required.
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              Rapid task-related plasticity of spectrotemporal receptive fields in primary auditory cortex.

              We investigated the hypothesis that task performance can rapidly and adaptively reshape cortical receptive field properties in accord with specific task demands and salient sensory cues. We recorded neuronal responses in the primary auditory cortex of behaving ferrets that were trained to detect a target tone of any frequency. Cortical plasticity was quantified by measuring focal changes in each cell's spectrotemporal response field (STRF) in a series of passive and active behavioral conditions. STRF measurements were made simultaneously with task performance, providing multiple snapshots of the dynamic STRF during ongoing behavior. Attending to a specific target frequency during the detection task consistently induced localized facilitative changes in STRF shape, which were swift in onset. Such modulatory changes may enhance overall cortical responsiveness to the target tone and increase the likelihood of 'capturing' the attended target during the detection task. Some receptive field changes persisted for hours after the task was over and hence may contribute to long-term sensory memory.

                Author and article information

                Role: Editor
                PLoS One
                PLoS ONE
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
                11 May 2011
                : 6
                : 5
                [1 ]Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, United States of America
                [2 ]Communication Sciences, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, United States of America
                [3 ]Institute for Neuroscience, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, United States of America
                [4 ]Departments of Neurobiology and Physiology, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, United States of America
                [5 ]Otolaryngology, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, United States of America
                Semmelweis University, Hungary
                Author notes

                Conceived and designed the experiments: AP-C NK. Performed the experiments: AP-C SA EH. Analyzed the data: AP-C DLS SA EH. Wrote the paper: AP-C DLS SA NK.

                Parbery-Clark et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
                Page count
                Pages: 8
                Research Article
                Anatomy and Physiology
                Physiological Processes
                Cognitive Neuroscience
                Working Memory
                Sensory Systems
                Auditory System
                Sensory Perception
                Mental Health
                Sensory Perception
                Social and Behavioral Sciences
                Human Performance
                Cognitive Psychology
                Sensory Perception



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