Objectives: The purpose of this study was to determine whether the processing of temporal fine structure diminishes with age, even in the presence of relatively normal audiometric hearing. Temporal fine structure processing was assessed by measuring the discrimination of interaural phase differences (IPDs). The hypothesis was that IPD discrimination is more acute in middle-aged observers than in older observers but that acuity in middle-aged observers is nevertheless poorer than in young adults.
Design: Two experiments were undertaken. The first measured discrimination of 0- and π-radian interaural phases as a function of carrier frequency. The stimulus was a 5-Hz sinusoidally amplitude-modulated tone in which, in the signal waveform, the interaural phase of the carrier was inverted during alternate modulation periods. The second experiment measured IPD discrimination at fixed frequencies. The stimulus was a pair of tone pulses in which, in the signal, the trailing pulse contained an IPD. A total of 39 adults with normal audiograms ≤2000 Hz participated in this study, of which 15 were younger, 12 middle aged, and 12 older.
Results: Experiment 1 showed that the highest carrier frequency at which a π-radian IPD could be discriminated from the diotic, 0-radian standard was significantly lower in middle-aged listeners than young adults, and still lower in older listeners. Experiment 2 indicated that middle-aged listeners were less sensitive to IPDs than young adults at all but the lowest frequencies tested. Older listeners, as a group, had the poorest thresholds.
Conclusions: These results suggest that deficits in temporal fine structure processing are evident in the presenescent auditory system. This adds to the accumulating evidence that deficiencies in some aspects of auditory temporal processing emerge relatively early in the aging process. It is possible that early-emerging temporal processing deficits manifest themselves in challenging speech in noise environments.