The ability to attend to target speech in background noise is an important skill, particularly for children who spend many hours in noisy environments. Intelligibility improves as a result of spatial or binaural unmasking in the free-field for normal-hearing children; however, children who use bilateral cochlear implants (BiCIs) demonstrate little benefit in similar situations. It was hypothesized that poor auditory attention abilities might explain the lack of unmasking observed in children with BiCIs. Target and interferer speech stimuli were presented to either or both ears of BiCI participants via their clinical processors. Speech reception thresholds remained low when the target and interferer were in opposite ears, but they did not show binaural unmasking when the interferer was presented to both ears and the target only to one ear. These results demonstrate that, in the most extreme cases of stimulus separation, children with BiCIs can ignore an interferer and attend to target speech, but there is weak or absent binaural unmasking. It appears that children with BiCIs mostly experience poor encoding of binaural cues rather than deficits in ability to selectively attend to target speech.
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- cochlear implant
- auditory attention