Auditory backward masking in normal hearing children

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Backward masking (BM) is an auditory phenomenon in which the threshold of an auditory signal is elevated due to the presence of another signal (masker) that follows it. Models related to central auditory temporal processes, such as the ‘temporal window’ model, have been suggested to explain this phenomenon. If this assumption is correct then BM thresholds are expected to improve as a function of age. Electrophysiological data suggest that the central auditory system undergoes maturation in the first two decades of life. Empirical data on the development of BM with age are limited. Therefore, the goals of the present study were to study the effect of age on the performance of backward masking in normal developing children and to determine the age at which children reach adult-like performance. Subjects were 30 normal developing children divided into three groups according to age: 7, 9 and 11 years old. Stimuli consisted of a 1000 Hz pure tone and a bandpass masker (600–1400 Hz). Three BM threshold estimates were obtained for each subject using a three-alternative forced-choice adaptive procedure. The data show a trend for improvement in backward-masking thresholds with increasing age. Specifically, 7 and 9 year-old children performed significantly poorer than those reported for adults, whereas 11 year-old children reached adult-like performance. These data contribute to the small body of literature on backward masking in normal developing children. They are in keeping with what is known regarding the age of physiological maturation of the auditory system and have important clinical implications in the assessment of children with suspected temporal processing deficits.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)105-116
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Basic and Clinical Physiology and Pharmacology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2002


  • auditory backward masking
  • development
  • developmental psychoacoustics
  • temporal masking
  • temporal processing


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