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Keywords:

  • central auditory processing;
  • children;
  • development;
  • evoked responses;
  • speech

Abstract

Children are known to be particularly vulnerable to the effects of noise on speech perception, and it is commonly acknowledged that failure of central auditory processes can lead to these difficulties with speech-in-noise (SIN) perception. However, little is known about the mechanistic relationship between central processes and the perception of SIN. Our aims were twofold: to examine the effects of noise on the central encoding of speech through measurement of cortical event-related potentials and to examine the relationship between cortical processing and behavioral indices of SIN perception. We recorded cortical responses to the speech syllable [da] in quiet and multi-talker babble noise in 32 children with a broad range of SIN perception. Outcomes suggest inordinate effects of noise on auditory function in the bottom SIN perceivers compared with the top perceivers. The cortical amplitudes in the top SIN group remained stable between conditions, whereas amplitudes increased significantly in the bottom SIN group, suggesting a developmental central processing impairment in the bottom perceivers that may contribute to difficulties in encoding and perceiving speech in challenging listening environments.