Spectral Contrast Effects Reveal Different Acoustic Cues for Vowel Recognition in Cochlear-Implant Users

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Objectives: The identity of a speech sound can be affected by the spectrum of a preceding stimulus in a contrastive manner. Although such aftereffects are often reduced in people with hearing loss and cochlear implants (CIs), one recent study demonstrated larger spectral contrast effects in CI users than in normal-hearing (NH) listeners. The present study aimed to shed light on this puzzling finding. We hypothesized that poorer spectral resolution leads CI users to rely on different acoustic cues not only to identify speech sounds but also to adapt to the context. Design: Thirteen postlingually deafened adult CI users and 33 NH participants (listening to either vocoded or unprocessed speech) participated in this study. Psychometric functions were estimated in a vowel categorization task along the/i/to/ϵ/(as in "bit" and "bet") continuum following a context sentence, the long-term average spectrum of which was manipulated at the level of either fine-grained local spectral cues or coarser global spectral cues. Results: In NH listeners with unprocessed speech, the aftereffect was determined solely by the fine-grained local spectral cues, resulting in a surprising insensitivity to the larger, global spectral cues utilized by CI users. Restricting the spectral resolution available to NH listeners via vocoding resulted in patterns of responses more similar to those found in CI users. However, the size of the contrast aftereffect remained smaller in NH listeners than in CI users. Conclusions: Only the spectral contrasts used by listeners contributed to the spectral contrast effects in vowel identification. These results explain why CI users can experience larger-than-normal context effects under specific conditions. The results also suggest that adaptation to new spectral cues can be very rapid for vowel discrimination, but may follow a longer time course to influence spectral contrast effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)990-997
Number of pages8
JournalEar and hearing
StateAccepted/In press - 2020


  • Adaptation
  • Cochlear implants
  • Plasticity
  • Spectral resolution
  • Speech context

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article

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