Binaural Temporal Coding and the Middle Ear Muscle Reflex in Audiometrically Normal Young Adults

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Noise exposure may damage the synapses that connect inner hair cells with auditory nerve fibers, before outer hair cells are lost. In humans, this cochlear synaptopathy (CS) is thought to decrease the fidelity of peripheral auditory temporal coding. In the current study, the primary hypothesis was that higher middle ear muscle reflex (MEMR) thresholds, as a proxy measure of CS, would be associated with smaller values of the binaural intelligibility level difference (BILD). The BILD, which is a measure of binaural temporal coding, is defined here as the difference in thresholds between the diotic and the antiphasic versions of the digits in noise (DIN) test. This DIN BILD may control for factors unrelated to binaural temporal coding such as linguistic, central auditory, and cognitive factors. Fifty-six audiometrically normal adults (34 females) aged 18 – 30 were tested. The test battery included standard pure tone audiometry, tympanometry, MEMR using a 2 kHz elicitor and 226 Hz and 1 kHz probes, the Noise Exposure Structured Interview, forward digit span test, extended high frequency (EHF) audiometry, and diotic and antiphasic DIN tests. The study protocol was pre-registered prior to data collection. MEMR thresholds did not predict the DIN BILD. Secondary analyses showed no association between MEMR thresholds and the individual diotic and antiphasic DIN thresholds. Greater lifetime noise exposure was non-significantly associated with higher MEMR thresholds, larger DIN BILD values, and lower (better) antiphasic DIN thresholds, but not with diotic DIN thresholds, nor with EHF thresholds. EHF thresholds were associated with neither MEMR thresholds nor any of the DIN outcomes, including the DIN BILD. Results provide no evidence that young, audiometrically normal people incur CS with impacts on binaural temporal processing.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHearing Research
Early online date30 Nov 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 30 Nov 2022


  • Cochlear synaptopathy
  • Noise exposure
  • Middle ear muscle reflex
  • Binaural temporal coding
  • Speech perception in noise


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