The Relative Contributions of Temporal Envelope and Fine Structure in Mandarin Lexical Tone Perception in Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder

Shuo Wang, Ruijuan Dong, Yuan Wang, Dongxin Liu, Luo Zhang, Li Xu

Previous studies have demonstrated that temporal envelope (E) is sufficient for speech perception, while fine structure (FS) is important for pitch perception and lexical tone perception for normal-hearing (NH) listeners. Listeners with sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) have an impaired ability to use FS in lexical tone perception due to the reduced frequency resolution. Listeners with auditory neuropathy spectrum disorder (ANSD) may have deficits in temporal resolution. Little is known about how such deficits may impact their ability to use E and FS to perceive lexical tone, and whether it is the deficit in temporal resolution or frequency resolution that may lead to more detrimental effects on FS processing in pitch perception. Three experiments were conducted in the present study to address the above-mentioned questions. Experiment I used the “auditory chimera” technique to investigate how listeners with SNHL and with ANSD would achieve lexical tone recognition using either the E or the FS cues. Experiment II tested the frequency resolution for the two groups of listeners as measured with the Q10 dB values of the psychophysical tuning curves (PTCs). Experiment III tested their temporal resolution as measured with the temporal gap detection (TGD) threshold. The results showed that the listeners with SNHL had reduced frequency selectivity, but intact temporal resolution ability, while the listeners with ANSD had degraded temporal resolution ability, but intact frequency selectivity. In comparison with the SNHL listeners, the ANSD listeners had severely degraded ability to process the FS cues and thus their ability to perceive lexical tone mainly depended on the ability to use the E cues. These results suggested that, in comparison with the detrimental impact of the reduced frequency selectivity, the impaired temporal resolution may lead to more degraded FS processing in pitch perception.