Auditory Perceptual Training Improves Neural Timing

Auditory Perceptual Training Improves Neural Timing

Edited by Sally S. Brockett, M.S., North Haven, Conneticut

Researchers at Northwestern University recently published results of a study on the benefits of auditory perceptual training for children clinically diagnosed with a language-based learning problem (e.g. dyslexia).

Russo, Nicol, Zecker, Hayes and Kraus (2005) investigated whether auditory perceptual training would alter the neural brainstem encoding of the acoustic sound structure of speech in children diagnosed with a language-based learning problem. Children in the experimental group participated in 35–40 independently supervised one-hour sessions of computer-based auditory training (Earobics, Cognitive Concepts, Evanston, IL) over an 8-week period. Prior to beginning and within three months after completing the training program, children were evaluated at the Kraus Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Neurophysiological responses to a speech syllable were recorded in both quiet and background noise. Additional perceptual and cognitive tests were also conducted. Results were compared with control subjects who underwent the same evaluations, but they did not participate in any remediation program.

Results of the study indicate that auditory perceptual training appears to alter the brainstem response to speech sounds. Specifically, neural encoding became more resistant to the deleterious effects of background noise following training. This research also demonstrated neural plasticity at the level of the human auditory brainstem and that auditory perceptual training can improve neural timing in response to sounds. For more details about the study, visit www.communication.northwestern.edu/brainvolts.

Summary. Converging evidence indicates that children with auditory brainstem timing deficits benefit most from commercial auditory training programs. Although the children in this study underwent a general mode of auditory training, effects were transferable among sounds, since it was associated with alteration of the response to the laboratory test syllables. Neural timing improvements at the brainstem and cortical levels have been associated with improvements in tests of listening comprehension, auditory processing and speech discrimination in background noise following training (Hayes et al., 2003, Clin Neurophysiol; Russo et al., 2005, Behav Brain Res). Thus, pre-conscious modi?cation of sensory processing, prior to cognitive processing, may help overcome higher level de?cits.

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Reference: Russo, N.M., Nicol, T.G., Zecker, S.G., Hayes, E.A., & Kraus, N. (2005). Auditory training improves neural timing in the human brainstem. Behavioural Brain Research, 156, 95-103. Available online at www.ScienceDirect.com

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