FFR correlates SRM (Rouhbakhsh et al., 2019)

Purpose: Speech recognition in complex listening environments is enhanced by the extent of spatial separation between the speech source and background competing sources, an effect known as spatial release from masking (SRM). The aim of this study was to investigate whether the phase-locked neural activity in the central auditory pathways, reflected in the frequency following response (FFR), exhibits SRM.
Method: Eighteen normal-hearing adults (8 men and 10 women, ranging in age from 20 to 42 years) with no known neurological disorders participated in this study. FFRs were recorded from the participants in response to a target vowel /u/ presented with spatially colocated and separated competing talkers at 3 ranges of signal-to-noise ratios (SNRs), with median SNRs of −5.4, 0.5, and 6.8 dB and for different attentional conditions (attention and no attention).
Results: Amplitude of the FFR at the fundamental frequency was significantly larger in the spatially separated condition as compared to the colocated condition for only the lowest (< −2.4 dB SNR) of the 3 SNR ranges tested. A significant effect of attention was found when subjects were actively focusing on the target stimuli. No significant interaction effects were found between spatial separation and attention.
Conclusions: The enhanced representation of the target stimulus in the separated condition suggests that the temporal pattern of phase-locked brainstem neural activity generating the FFR may contain information relevant to the binaural processes underlying SRM but only in challenging listening environments. Attention may modulate FFR fundamental frequency amplitude but does not seem to modulate spatial processing at the level of generating the FFR.

Supplemental Material S1. Global and local approaches to the signal analysis, higher harmonics and formants, electrode montage, horizontal montage, and a brief review of results for global SNR analysis.

Rouhbakhsh, N., Mahdi, J., Hwo, J., Nobel, B., & Mousave, F. (2019). Human frequency following response correlates of spatial release from masking. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1044/2019_JSLHR-H-18-0353