Significant variability persists in speech recognition outcomes in adults with cochlear implants (CIs). Sensory (“bottom-up”) and cognitive-linguistic (“top-down”) processes help explain this variability. However, the interactions of these bottom-up and top-down factors remain unclear. One hypothesis was tested: top-down processes would contribute differentially to speech recognition, depending on the fidelity of bottom-up input.
Bottom-up spectro-temporal processing, assessed using a Spectral-Temporally Modulated Ripple Test (SMRT), is associated with CI speech recognition outcomes. Similarly, top-down cognitive-linguistic skills relate to outcomes, including working memory capacity, inhibition-concentration, speed of lexical access, and nonverbal reasoning.
Fifty-one adult CI users were tested for word and sentence recognition, along with performance on the SMRT and a battery of cognitive-linguistic tests. The group was divided into “low-,” “intermediate-,” and “high-SMRT” groups, based on SMRT scores. Separate correlation analyses were performed for each subgroup between a composite score of cognitive-linguistic processing and speech recognition.
Associations of top-down composite scores with speech recognition were not significant for the low-SMRT group. In contrast, these associations were significant and of medium effect size (Spearman's rho = 0.44–0.46) for two sentence types for the intermediate-SMRT group. For the high-SMRT group, top-down scores were associated with both word and sentence recognition, with medium to large effect sizes (Spearman's rho = 0.45–0.58).
Top-down processes contribute differentially to speech recognition in CI users based on the quality of bottom-up input. Findings have clinical implications for individualized treatment approaches relying on bottom-up device programming or top-down rehabilitation approaches.