Inhibition of pericranial muscle activity, respiration, and heart rate enhances auditory sensitivity

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Abstract

We investigated whether previously observed inhibition of pericranial electromyographic (EMG) activity, respiration, and heart rate during sensory intake processes improves auditory sensitivity. Participants had to detect weak auditory stimuli. We found that EMG activity in masticatory and lower facial muscles, respiration, and heart rate were more strongly inhibited when stimulus intensity was gradually lowered to threshold level whereas EMG of upper facial muscles progressively increased. Detection of near-threshold stimuli was inversely related to prestimulus EMG levels in masticatory and lower facial muscles. In two additional experiments, it was investigated whether steady, voluntary contractions negatively influence auditory sensitivity. As expected, contraction of zygomaticus produced an increase in auditory threshold in comparison with contraction of corrugator or first dorsal interosseus. It is concluded that attention to external stimuli is accompanied by quieting of those somatic activities that produce internal noise or are accompanied by impaired middle ear transmission of auditory stimuli.

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