Effects of masker frequency and duration in forward masking: Further evidence for the influence of peripheral nonlinearity

Andrew J. Oxenham, Christopher J. Plack

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56 Scopus citations


Forward masking has often been thought of in terms of neural adaptation, with nonlinearities in the growth and decay of forward masking being accounted for by the nonlinearities inherent in adaptation. In contrast, this study presents further evidence for the hypothesis that forward masking can be described as a linear process, once peripheral, mechanical nonlinearities are taken into account. The first experiment compares the growth of masking for on- and off-frequency maskers. Signal thresholds were measured as a function of masker level for three masker-signal intervals of 0, 10, and 30 ms. The brief 4-kHz sinusoidal signal was masked by a 200-ms sinusoidal forward masker which had a frequency of either 2.4 kHz (off-frequency) or 4 kHz (on-frequency). As in previous studies, for the on-frequency condition, the slope of the function relating signal threshold to masker level became shallower as the delay between the masker and signal was increased. In contrast, the slopes for the off-frequency condition were independent of masker-signal delay and had a value of around unity, indicating linear growth of masking for all masker-signal delays. In the second experiment, a broadband Gaussian noise forward masker was used to mask a brief 6-kHz sinusoidal signal. The spectrum level of the masker was either 0 or 40 dB (re: 20 μPa). The gap between the masker and signal was either 0 or 20 ms. Signal thresholds were measured for masker durations from 5 to 200 ms. The effect of masker duration was found to depend more on signal level than on gap duration or masker level. Overall, the results support the idea that forward masking can be modeled as a linear process, preceded by a static nonlinearity resembling that found on the basilar membrane. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science B.V.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)258-266
Number of pages9
JournalHearing Research
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 2000

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The first author is supported by NIH/NIDCD Grant R01 DC 03909. The collaboration was facilitated by a Wellcome Trust Research Collaboration Grant. Experiment 1 was performed with the assistance of Jocelyn Hendrickson while the first author was at the Institute for Hearing, Speech, and Language, Northeastern University, Boston, MA, USA. Walt Jesteadt and Brian Moore provided helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper.


  • Cochlear nonlinearity
  • Forward masking
  • Temporal processing


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