Cochlear implants are medical devices that restore a remarkable degree of hearing to people who would
otherwise be profoundly deaf. These devices generally restore enough hearing that recipients can understand
spoken speech even in noisy environments. However, most recipients express dissatisfaction with music. This
proposal centers on understanding the challenges that implant users face and the strategies that they adopt as
they learn to appreciate music with this new way of hearing. The proposed research is organized into three aims:
Aim 1: Characterize music appreciation after cochlear implantation. The proposed research balances
qualitative and quantitative methods to examine the emergence of music appreciation after cochlear
implantation. Qualitative methods will include semi-structured interviews and focus groups designed to clarify
the obstacles that implant users face as they learn to appreciate music with their new sense of hearing.
Quantitative methods include surveys of music appreciation and quality of life, and auditory assessments of
music and speech perception. The primary hypothesis is that music appreciation is predictive of key domains of
quality of life including positive affect and well-being, and satisfaction with social roles and activities.
Aim 2: Determine if pitch training improves cochlear implant speech comprehension. The proposed
research tests for a causal relationship between pitch salience and key features of speech perception including
talker discrimination, prosody detection, and speech recognition in competing speech. Cochlear implant users
and their normal-hearing peers will take part in a crossover study to determine if pitch training improves aspects
of music and speech perception compared to a visual task used as a control. The primary hypothesis is that pitch
training will improve speech comprehension for cochlear implant users, but not for their normal-hearing peers.
Aim 3: Test the limits of pitch coding in cochlear implants. The proposed research bypasses conventional
sound processing to study the salience of pitch provided by electrode location and stimulation rate. These two
stimulation cues are the primary cues for providing a sense of pitch to cochlear implant users. Our work has
shown that implant users are able to learn to use this information to hear pitch with better resolution far better
than previously thought. The primary hypothesis is that cochlear implant users have a latent ability to hear pitch
associated with stimulation rate, but that they require experience to learn how to hear this new information.
In each aim, we compliment psychophysical methods with an innovative approach combining EEG and near-
infrared spectroscopy. The results will establish the importance of music training for improving cochlear implant
outcomes, both in terms of hearing abilities and quality of life. The results will lead to changes in how music is
encoded into implant stimulation, providing better outcomes for recipients. More generally, this project will shape
understanding of neural coding of music and its role in social adjustment following traumatic experiences.