Selective attention reduces physiological noise in the external ear canals of humans. I: Auditory attention

Kyle P. Walsh, Edward G. Pasanen, Dennis McFadden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


In this study, a nonlinear version of the stimulus-frequency OAE (SFOAE), called the nSFOAE, was used to measure cochlear responses from human subjects while they simultaneously performed behavioral tasks requiring, or not requiring, selective auditory attention. Appended to each stimulus presentation, and included in the calculation of each nSFOAE response, was a 30-ms silent period that was used to estimate the level of the inherent physiological noise in the ear canals of our subjects during each behavioral condition. Physiological-noise magnitudes were higher (noisier) for all subjects in the inattention task, and lower (quieter) in the selective auditory-attention tasks. These noise measures initially were made at the frequency of our nSFOAE probe tone (4.0kHz), but the same attention effects also were observed across a wide range of frequencies. We attribute the observed differences in physiological-noise magnitudes between the inattention and attention conditions to different levels of efferent activation associated with the differing attentional demands of the behavioral tasks. One hypothesis is that when the attentional demand is relatively great, efferent activation is relatively high, and a decrease in the gain of the cochlear amplifier leads to lower-amplitude cochlear activity, and thus a smaller measure of noise from the ear.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)143-159
Number of pages17
JournalHearing Research
StatePublished - Jun 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was done as part of the requirements for a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin, by author KPW, who now is located at the University of Minnesota. The work was supported by a research grant awarded to author DM by the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIDCD; RO1 DC000153 ). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIDCD or the National Institutes of Health. D.O. Kim and J.G. Guinan provided helpful discussion about these results, and two anonymous reviewers provided thoughtful comments.


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