Original Research ARTICLE

Front. Aging Neurosci., 23 November 2012 | doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2012.00030

Musical experience strengthens the neural representation of sounds important for communication in middle-aged adults

  • 1Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA
  • 2Communication Sciences, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA
  • 3Institute for Neuroscience, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA
  • 4Neurobiology and Physiology, Institute for Neuroscience, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA
  • 5Otolaryngology, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA

Older adults frequently complain that while they can hear a person talking, they cannot understand what is being said; this difficulty is exacerbated by background noise. Peripheral hearing loss cannot fully account for this age-related decline in speech-in-noise ability, as declines in central processing also contribute to this problem. Given that musicians have enhanced speech-in-noise perception, we aimed to define the effects of musical experience on subcortical responses to speech and speech-in-noise perception in middle-aged adults. Results reveal that musicians have enhanced neural encoding of speech in quiet and noisy settings. Enhancements include faster neural response timing, higher neural response consistency, more robust encoding of speech harmonics, and greater neural precision. Taken together, we suggest that musical experience provides perceptual benefits in an aging population by strengthening the underlying neural pathways necessary for the accurate representation of important temporal and spectral features of sound.

Keywords: auditory, brainstem, musical experience, speech in noise, aging, musicians

Citation: Parbery-Clark A, Anderson S, Hittner E and Kraus N (2012) Musical experience strengthens the neural representation of sounds important for communication in middle-aged adults. Front. Ag. Neurosci. 4:30. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2012.00030

Received: 06 September 2012; Paper pending published: 08 October 2012;
Accepted: 19 October 2012; Published online: 23 November 2012.

Edited by:

George Perry, The University of Texas at San Antonio, USA

Reviewed by:

Matilde Inglese, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, USA
Robert Friedland, University of Louisville, USA

Copyright © 2012 Parbery-Clark, Anderson, Hittner and Kraus. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited and subject to any copyright notices concerning any third-party graphics etc.

*Correspondence: Nina Kraus, Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, Northwestern University, 2240 Campus Drive, Evanston, IL 60208, USA. e-mail: nkraus@northwestern.edu

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