Voice Discrimination by Adults with Cochlear Implants: the Benefits of Early Implantation for Vocal-Tract Length Perception

Yael Zaltz*, Raymond L. Goldsworthy, Liat Kishon-Rabin, Laurie S. Eisenberg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cochlear implant (CI) users find it extremely difficult to discriminate between talkers, which may partially explain why they struggle to understand speech in a multi-talker environment. Recent studies, based on findings with postlingually deafened CI users, suggest that these difficulties may stem from their limited use of vocal-tract length (VTL) cues due to the degraded spectral resolution transmitted by the CI device. The aim of the present study was to assess the ability of adult CI users who had no prior acoustic experience, i.e., prelingually deafened adults, to discriminate between resynthesized “talkers” based on either fundamental frequency (F0) cues, VTL cues, or both. Performance was compared to individuals with normal hearing (NH), listening either to degraded stimuli, using a noise-excited channel vocoder, or non-degraded stimuli. Results show that (a) age of implantation was associated with VTL but not F0 cues in discriminating between talkers, with improved discrimination for those subjects who were implanted at earlier age; (b) there was a positive relationship for the CI users between VTL discrimination and speech recognition score in quiet and in noise, but not with frequency discrimination or cognitive abilities; (c) early-implanted CI users showed similar voice discrimination ability as the NH adults who listened to vocoded stimuli. These data support the notion that voice discrimination is limited by the speech processing of the CI device. However, they also suggest that early implantation may facilitate sensory-driven tonotopicity and/or improve higher-order auditory functions, enabling better perception of VTL spectral cues for voice discrimination.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)193-209
Number of pages17
JournalJARO - Journal of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2018


  • VTL
  • cochlear implant
  • early implantation
  • talker discrimination
  • vocal-tract length
  • voice discrimination


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