AUTHORS: Radecke JO, Schierholz I, Kral A, Lenarz T, Murray MM, Sandmann P

NeuroImage: Clinical, 33: 102942, January 2022


In naturalistic situations, sounds are often perceived in conjunction with matching visual impressions. For example, we see and hear the neighbor’s dog barking in the garden. Still, there is a good chance that we recognize the neighbor’s dog even when we only hear it barking, but do not see it behind the fence. Previous studies with normal-hearing (NH) listeners have shown that the audio-visual presentation of a perceptual object (like an animal) increases the probability to recognize this object later on, even if the repeated presentation of this object occurs in a purely auditory condition. In patients with a cochlear implant (CI), however, the electrical hearing of sounds is impoverished, and the ability to recognize perceptual objects in auditory conditions is significantly limited. It is currently not well understood whether CI users – as NH listeners – show a multisensory facilitation for auditory recognition. The present study used event-related potentials (ERPs) and a continuous recognition paradigm with auditory and audio-visual stimuli to test the prediction that CI users show a benefit from audio-visual perception. Indeed, the congruent audio-visual context resulted in an improved recognition ability of objects in an auditory-only condition, both in the NH listeners and the CI users. The ERPs revealed a group-specific pattern of voltage topographies and correlations between these ERP maps and the auditory recognition ability, indicating a different processing of congruent audio-visual stimuli in CI users when compared to NH listeners. Taken together, our results point to distinct cortical processing of naturalistic audio-visual objects in CI users and NH listeners, which however allows both groups to improve the recognition ability of these objects in a purely auditory context. Our findings are of relevance for future clinical research since audio-visual perception might also improve the auditory rehabilitation after cochlear implantation.

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