While it is often assumed that our auditory system is phase-deaf, there is a body of literature showing that listeners are very sensitive to phase differences between spectral components of a sound. Particularly, for spectral components falling into the same perceptual filter, the so-called auditory filter, a change in relative phase across components causes a change in the temporal pattern at the output of the filter. The phase response of the auditory filter is thus important for any auditory tasks that rely on within-channel temporal envelope information, most notably temporal pitch or interaural time differences.
Within-channel phase sensitivity has been used to derive a psychophysical measure of the phase response of auditory filters (Kohlrausch and Sanders, 1995). The basic idea of the widely used masking paradigm is that a harmonic complex whose phase curvature roughly mirrors the phase response of the auditory filter spectrally centered on the complex causes a maximally modulated (peaked) internal representation and, thus, elicits minimal masking of a pure tone target at the same center frequency. Therefore, systematic variation of the phase curvature of the harmonic complex (the masker) allows to estimate the auditory filter’s phase response: the masker phase curvature causing minimal masking reflects the mirrored phase response of the auditory filter.
Besides the obvious importance of detecting the target in the temporal dips of the masker, particularly of the target is short compared to the modulation period of the masker (Kohlrausch and Sanders, 1995), there are several indications that fast compression in the cochlea is important to obtain the masker-phase effect (e.g., Carlyon and Datta, 1997; Oxenham and Dau, 2004). One indication is that listeners with sensorineural hearing impairment (HI), characterized by reduced or absent cochlear compression due to loss of outer hair cells, show only a very weak masker-phase effect, making it difficult to estimate the cochlear phase response.
In the BiPhase project we propose a new paradigm for measuring the cochlear phase response that does not rely on cochlear compression and thus should be applicable in HI listeners. It relies on the idea that the amount of modulation (peakedness) in the internal representation of a harmonic complex, as given by its phase curvature, determines the listener’s sensitivity to envelope interaural time difference (ITD) imposed on the stimulus. Assuming that listener’s sensitivity to envelope ITD does not rely on compression, systematic variation of the stimulus phase curvature should allow to estimate the cochlear phase response both in normal-hearing (NH) and HI listeners. The main goals of BiPhase are the following:
This project is funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF, Project # P24183-N24, awarded to Bernhard Laback). It run from 2013 to 2017