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Listening difficulties in children: Behavior and brain activation produced by dichotic listening of CV syllables

By David R. Moore, Kenneth Hugdahl, Hannah J Stewart, Jennifer Vannest, Audrey J Perdew, Nicholette T Sloat, Erin Cash, Lisa L Hunter

Posted 07 Aug 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/721209 (published DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00675)

Listening difficulties (LiD), also known as auditory processing disorders, are common in children with and without hearing loss. Impaired interactions between the two ears have been proposed as an important component of LiD. Previous studies have focused on testing using multiple sequential dichotic digits that carry a substantial memory load and executive control demands. We examined the ability of 6-13 year old children with normal audiometric thresholds to identify and selectively attend to dichotically presented CV syllables using the Bergen Dichotic Listening Test (BDLT; www.dichoticlistening.com). Children were recruited as typically developing (TD; n=39) or having LiD (n=35) based primarily on composite score of the ECLiPS caregiver report. Different single syllables (ba, da, ga, pa, ta, ka) were presented simultaneously to each ear (6x36 trials). Children reported the syllable heard most clearly (non-forced, NF) or the syllable presented to the right (forced, FR) or left (FL) ear. Interaural level differences (ILDs) manipulated bottom-up perceptual salience. Dichotic listening data (correct responses, Laterality Index) were analyzed initially by group (LiD, TD), age, report method (NF, FR, FL) and ILD (0, +/- 15 dB) and compared with speech-in-noise thresholds (LiSN-S) and cognitive performance (NIH Toolbox). fMRI measured brain activation produced by a receptive speech task that segregated speech, phonetic and intelligibility components. Some activated areas (planum temporale, inferior frontal gyrus and orbitofrontal cortex) were correlated with dichotic results in TD children only. Neither group, age nor report method affected the Laterality Index of right/left recall. However, a significant interaction was found between ear, group and ILD. Children with LiD were more influenced by large ILDs, especially favoring the left ear, than were TD children. Neural activity associated with Speech, Phonetic and Intelligibility sentence cues did not significantly differ between groups. Significant correlations between brain activity level and BDLT were found in several frontal and temporal locations for the TD but not for the LiD group. Children with LiD were more influenced by large ILDs, especially favoring the left ear, than were TD children and were thus less able to modulate performance through attention, and more driven by the physical properties of the acoustic stimuli.

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