Hearing-impaired (HI) listeners often show poorer performance on psychoacoustic tasks than do normal-hearing (NH) listeners. Although some such deficits may reflect changes in suprathreshold sound processing, others may be due to stimulus audibility and the elevated absolute thresholds associated with hearing loss. Masking noise can be used to raise the thresholds of NH to equal the thresholds in quiet of HI listeners. However, such noise may have other effects, including changing peripheral response characteristics, such as the compressive input-output function of the basilar membrane in the normal cochlea. This study estimated compression behaviorally across a range of background noise levels in NH listeners at a 4 kHz signal frequency, using a growth of forward masking paradigm. For signals 5 dB or more above threshold in noise, no significant effect of broadband noise level was found on estimates of compression. This finding suggests that broadband noise does not significantly alter the compressive response of the basilar membrane to sounds that are presented well above their threshold in the noise. Similarities between the performance of HI listeners and NH listeners in threshold-equalizing noise are therefore unlikely to be due to a linearization of basilar-membrane responses to suprathreshold stimuli in the NH listeners.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by the NIH Grant No. R01 DC03909. We thank Magdalena Wojtczak, Brian Moore, Enrique Lopez-Poveda, and an anonymous reviewer for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this manuscript.