Transfer of auditory perceptual learning with spectrally reduced speech to speech and nonspeech tasks: Implications for cochlear implants

Jeremy L. Loebach, David B. Pisoni, Mario A. Svirsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

19 Scopus citations


Objective: The objective of this study was to assess whether training on speech processed with an eight-channel noise vocoder to simulate the output of a cochlear implant would produce transfer of auditory perceptual learning to the recognition of nonspeech environmental sounds, the identification of speaker gender, and the discrimination of talkers by voice. Design: Twenty-four normal-hearing subjects were trained to transcribe meaningful English sentences processed with a noise vocoder simulation of a cochlear implant. An additional 24 subjects served as an untrained control group and transcribed the same sentences in their unprocessed form. All subjects completed pre- and post-test sessions in which they transcribed vocoded sentences to provide an assessment of training efficacy. Transfer of perceptual learning was assessed using a series of closed set, nonlinguistic tasks: subjects identified talker gender, discriminated the identity of pairs of talkers, and identified ecologically significant environmental sounds from a closed set of alternatives. Results: Although both groups of subjects showed significant pre- to post-test improvements, subjects who transcribed vocoded sentences during training performed significantly better at post-test than those in the control group. Both groups performed equally well on gender identification and talker discrimination. Subjects who received explicit training on the vocoded sentences, however, performed significantly better on environmental sound identification than the untrained subjects. Moreover, across both groups, pre-test speech performance and, to a higher degree, post-test speech performance, were significantly correlated with environmental sound identification. For both groups, environmental sounds that were characterized as having more salient temporal information were identified more often than environmental sounds that were characterized as having more salient spectral information. Conclusions: Listeners trained to identify noise-vocoded sentences showed evidence of transfer of perceptual learning to the identification of environmental sounds. In addition, the correlation between environmental sound identification and sentence transcription indicates that subjects who were better able to use the degraded acoustic information to identify the environmental sounds were also better able to transcribe the linguistic content of novel sentences. Both trained and untrained groups performed equally well (∼75% correct) on the gender-identification task, indicating that training did not have an effect on the ability to identify the gender of talkers. Although better than chance, performance on the talker discrimination task was poor overall (∼55%), suggesting that either explicit training is required to discriminate talkers' voices reliably or that additional information (perhaps spectral in nature) not present in the vocoded speech is required to excel in such tasks. Taken together, the results suggest that although transfer of auditory perceptual learning with spectrally degraded speech does occur, explicit task-specific training may be necessary for tasks that cannot rely on temporal information alone.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)662-674
Number of pages13
JournalEar and hearing
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology
  • Speech and Hearing

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