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Original Research ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01990

Implicit processing of pitch in postlingually deafened cochlear implant users

  • 1Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), France
  • 2INSERM U1028 Centre de Recherche en Neurosciences de Lyon, France
  • 3Université de Lyon, France
  • 4UMR5022 Laboratoire d'Etude de l'Apprentissage et du Developpement (LEAD), France
  • 5Advanced Bionics GmbH, Germany

Cochlear implant (CI) users can only access limited pitch information through their device, which hinders music appreciation. Poor music perception may not only be due to CI technical limitations; lack of training or negative attitudes towards the electric sound might also contribute to it. Our study investigated with an implicit (indirect) investigation method whether poorly-transmitted pitch information, presented as musical chords, can activate listeners’ knowledge about musical structures acquired prior to deafness.
Seven postlingually deafened adult CI users participated in a musical priming paradigm investigating pitch processing without explicit judgments. Sequences made of eight sung-chords that ended on either a musically related (expected) target chord or a less-related (less-expected) target chord were presented. The use of a priming task based on linguistic features allowed CI patients to perform fast judgments on target chords in the sung music. If listeners’ musical knowledge is activated and allows for tonal expectations (as in normal-hearing listeners), faster response times were expected for related targets than less-related targets. However, if the pitch percept is too different and does not activate musical knowledge acquired prior to deafness, storing pitch information in a short-term memory buffer predicts the opposite pattern. If transmitted pitch information is too poor, no difference in response times should be observed.
Results showed that CI patients were able to perform the linguistic task on the sung chords, but correct response times indicated sensory priming, with faster response times observed for the less-related targets: CI patients processed at least some of the pitch information of the musical sequences, which was stored in an auditory short-term memory and influenced chord processing.
This finding suggests that the signal transmitted via electric hearing led to a pitch percept that was too different from that based on acoustic hearing, so that it did not automatically activate listeners’ previously acquired musical structure knowledge. However, the transmitted signal seems sufficiently informative to lead to sensory priming. These findings are encouraging for the development of pitch-related training programs for CI patients, despite the current technological limitations of the CI coding.

Keywords: music perception, cochlear impant, implicit investigation method, Auditory sensory memory, priming

Received: 30 Apr 2019; Accepted: 14 Aug 2019.

Edited by:

Jeremy Marozeau, Technical University of Denmark, Denmark

Reviewed by:

Takako Fujioka, Stanford University, United States
Hamish Innes-Brown, Eriksholm Research Centre, Denmark  

Copyright: © 2019 Tillmann, Poulin-Charronnat, Gaudrain, Akhoun, Delbe, Truy and Collet. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Barbara Tillmann, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Paris, France,