Informational Masking in Aging and Brain-Lesioned Individuals

Haleh Farahblod
Corianne Rogalsky
Lynsey M. Keator
Julia Cai
Sara B. Pillay
Katie Turner
Arianna LaCroix
Julius Fridriksson
Jeffrey R. Binder
John C. Middlebrooks
Gregory Hickok
Kourosh Saberi


Auditory stream segregation and informational masking were investigated in brain-lesioned individuals, age-matched controls with no neurological disease, and young college-age students. A psychophysical paradigm known as rhythmic masking release (RMR) was used to examine the ability of participants to identify a change in the rhythmic sequence of 20-ms Gaussian noise bursts presented through headphones and filtered through generalized head-related transfer functions to produce the percept of an externalized auditory image (i.e., a 3D virtual reality sound). The target rhythm was temporally interleaved with a masker sequence comprising similar noise bursts in a manner that resulted in a uniform sequence with no information remaining about the target rhythm when the target and masker were presented from the same location (an impossible task). Spatially separating the target and masker sequences allowed participants to determine if there was a change in the target rhythm midway during its presentation. RMR thresholds were defined as the minimum spatial separation between target and masker sequences that resulted in 70.7% correct-performance level in a single-interval 2-alternative forced-choice adaptive tracking procedure. The main findings were (1) significantly higher RMR thresholds for individuals with brain lesions (especially those with damage to parietal areas) and (2) a left-right spatial asymmetry in performance for lesion (but not control) participants. These findings contribute to a better understanding of spatiotemporal relations in informational masking and the neural bases of auditory scene analysis.