Attention to a target stimulus within a complex scene often results in enhanced cortical representations of the target relative to the background. It remains unclear where along the auditory pathways attentional effects can first be measured. Anatomy suggests that attentional modulation could occur through corticofugal connections extending as far as the cochlea itself. Earlier attempts to investigate the effects of attention on human cochlear processing have revealed small and inconsistent effects. In this study, stimulus-frequency otoacoustic emissions were recorded from a total of 30 human participants as they performed tasks that required sustained selective attention to auditory or visual stimuli. In the first sample of 15 participants, emission magnitudes were significantly weaker when participants attended to the visual stimuli than when they attended to the auditory stimuli, by an average of 5.4 dB. However, no such effect was found in the second sample of 15 participants. When the data were pooled across samples, the average attentional effect was significant, but small (2.48 dB), with 12 of 30 listeners showing a significant effect, based on bootstrap analysis of the individual data. The results highlight the need for considering sources of individual differences and using large sample sizes in future investigations.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health Grant Nos. R01 DC010374 (M.W.) and R01 DC012262 (A.J.O). The authors declare no competing financial interests.
© 2018 Acoustical Society of America.