Pitfalls in behavioral estimates of basilar-membrane compression in humans

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Psychoacoustic estimates of basilar-membrane compression often compare on- and off-frequency forward masking. Such estimates involve assuming that the recovery from forward masking for a given signal frequency is independent of masker frequency. To test this assumption, thresholds for a brief 4-kHz signal were measured as a function of masker-signal delay. Comparisons were made between on-frequency (4 kHz) and off-frequency (either 2.4 or 4.4 kHz) maskers, adjusted in level to produce the same amount of masking at a 0-ms delay between masker offset and signal onset. Consistent with the assumption, forward-masking recovery from a moderate-level (83 dB SPL) 2.4-kHz masker and a high-level (92 dB SPL) 4.4-kHz masker was the same as from the equivalent on-frequency maskers. In contrast, recovery from a high-level (92 dB SPL) 2.4-kHz forward masker was slower than from the equivalent on-frequency masker. The results were used to simulate temporal masking curves, taking into account the differences in on- and off-frequency masking recoveries at high levels. The predictions suggest that compression estimates assuming frequency-independent masking recovery may overestimate compression by as much as a factor of 2. The results suggest caution in interpreting forward-masking data in terms of basilar-membrane compression, particularly when high-level maskers are involved.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)270-281
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of the Acoustical Society of America
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The study was supported by NIH Grant No. R01DC03909. The authors thank the Associate Editor Brian C. J. Moore and two anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful comments on earlier versions of the manuscript.


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