Spatial Release From Informational and Energetic Masking in Bimodal and Bilateral Cochlear Implant Users.


Purpose Spatially separating speech and background noise improves speech understanding in normal-hearing listeners, an effect referred to as spatial release from masking (SRM). In cochlear implant (CI) users, SRM has often been demonstrated using asymmetric noise configurations, which maximize benefit from head shadow and the potential availability of binaural cues. In contrast, SRM in symmetrical configurations has been minimal to absent in CI users. We examined the interaction between two types of maskers (informational and energetic) and SRM in bimodal and bilateral CI users. We hypothesized that SRM would be absent or "negative" using symmetrically separated noise maskers. Second, we hypothesized that bimodal listeners would exhibit greater release from informational masking due to access to acoustic information in the non-CI ear. Method Participants included 10 bimodal and 10 bilateral CI users. Speech understanding in noise was tested in 24 conditions: 3 spatial configurations (SN, SN, SN) × 2 masker types (speech, signal-correlated noise) × 2 listening configurations (best-aided, CI-alone) × 2 talker gender conditions (different-gender, same-gender). Results In support of our first hypothesis, both groups exhibited negative SRM with increasing spatial separation. In opposition to our second hypothesis, both groups exhibited similar magnitudes of release from informational masking. The magnitude of release was greater for bimodal listeners, though this difference failed to reach statistical significance. Conclusions Both bimodal and bilateral CI recipients exhibited negative SRM. This finding is consistent with CI signal processing limitations, the audiologic factors associated with SRM, and known effects of behind-the-ear microphone technology. Though release from informational masking was not significantly different across groups, the magnitude of release was greater for bimodal listeners. This suggests that bimodal listeners may be at least marginally more susceptible to informational masking than bilateral CI users, though further research is warranted.