Effects of Hearing Aid Noise Reduction on Early and Late Cortical Representations of Competing Talkers in Noise

Emina Alickovic*, Elaine Hoi Ning Ng, Lorenz Fiedler, Sébastien Santurette, Hamish Innes-Brown, Carina Graversen

*Corresponding author for this work

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Objectives: Previous research using non-invasive (magnetoencephalography, MEG) and invasive (electrocorticography, ECoG) neural recordings has demonstrated the progressive and hierarchical representation and processing of complex multi-talker auditory scenes in the auditory cortex. Early responses (<85 ms) in primary-like areas appear to represent the individual talkers with almost equal fidelity and are independent of attention in normal-hearing (NH) listeners. However, late responses (>85 ms) in higher-order non-primary areas selectively represent the attended talker with significantly higher fidelity than unattended talkers in NH and hearing–impaired (HI) listeners. Motivated by these findings, the objective of this study was to investigate the effect of a noise reduction scheme (NR) in a commercial hearing aid (HA) on the representation of complex multi-talker auditory scenes in distinct hierarchical stages of the auditory cortex by using high-density electroencephalography (EEG). Design: We addressed this issue by investigating early (<85 ms) and late (>85 ms) EEG responses recorded in 34 HI subjects fitted with HAs. The HA noise reduction (NR) was either on or off while the participants listened to a complex auditory scene. Participants were instructed to attend to one of two simultaneous talkers in the foreground while multi-talker babble noise played in the background (+3 dB SNR). After each trial, a two-choice question about the content of the attended speech was presented. Results: Using a stimulus reconstruction approach, our results suggest that the attention-related enhancement of neural representations of target and masker talkers located in the foreground, as well as suppression of the background noise in distinct hierarchical stages is significantly affected by the NR scheme. We found that the NR scheme contributed to the enhancement of the foreground and of the entire acoustic scene in the early responses, and that this enhancement was driven by better representation of the target speech. We found that the target talker in HI listeners was selectively represented in late responses. We found that use of the NR scheme resulted in enhanced representations of the target and masker speech in the foreground and a suppressed representation of the noise in the background in late responses. We found a significant effect of EEG time window on the strengths of the cortical representation of the target and masker. Conclusion: Together, our analyses of the early and late responses obtained from HI listeners support the existing view of hierarchical processing in the auditory cortex. Our findings demonstrate the benefits of a NR scheme on the representation of complex multi-talker auditory scenes in different areas of the auditory cortex in HI listeners.

Original languageEnglish
Article number636060
JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Cortical speech tracking
  • Electroencephalography (EEG)
  • Hearing aids
  • Hearing impairment
  • Hierarchical processing
  • Noise reduction scheme
  • Selective auditory attention
  • Stimulus reconstruction


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