Hearing in the extended high frequencies (EHFs; >8 kHz) is perceptually and clinically relevant. Recent work suggests the possible role of EHF audibility in natural listening environments (e.g., spatial hearing) and hidden hearing loss. In this article, we examine the development of frequency discrimination (FD) in the EHFs. Specifically, the objectives of the present study were to answer if the developmental timeline for FD is different for EHFs; and whether the discontinuity of FD thresholds across frequency—representing the hypothetical shift from a temporal to place code—for children occurs at about the same frequency as adults.
Thirty-one normal-hearing children (5 to 12 years) and 15 young adults participated in this study. FD thresholds were measured for standard frequencies (1, 2, 4, 6, and 8 kHz) and EHFs (10 and 12.5 kHz) using a three-alternative (odd-ball) forced-choice paradigm. Statistical analysis focused on examining the change of FD thresholds as a function of age and estimating the breakpoints in the discrimination threshold-frequency functions.
FD performance in younger children for EHFs was nearly six times poorer relative to older children and adults; however, there was no effect of test frequency on the child-adult difference. Change-point detection on group data revealed a higher knot frequency—representing the putative transition from temporal to place mechanisms—for adults (9.8 kHz) than children (~6 kHz). Individual spline functions suggest that the knot frequency varied from 2 to 10 kHz across participants.
The present study provides evidence for a similar rate of maturation of FD for EHFs and standard frequencies. FD at EHFs matures by 10 to 12 years of age. Adult listeners may not all use temporal cues up to 10 kHz. Young children are relatively inefficient in using temporal fine-structure cues for FD at frequencies above 6 kHz.