Informational masking (IM) refers to elevations in signal threshold caused by masker uncertainty. The purpose of this study was to investigate two factors expected to influence IM in hearing-impaired listeners. Masked thresholds for a 2000-Hz signal in the presence of simultaneous multitone maskers were measured in 16 normal-hearing (NH) and 9 hearing-impaired (HI) listeners. The maskers were 70 dB SPL average total power and were comprised of fixed-frequency components between 522 and 8346 Hz that were separated from each other by at least 1/3 oct and from the signal by at least 2/3 octs. Masker uncertainty was manipulated by randomly presenting each masker component with probability p = 0.1,0.2,...,0.9, or 1.0 across different trial blocks. Energetic masking was estimated as the amount of masking for p = 1.0, where masker uncertainty was minimum. IM was estimated as the amount of masking in excess of energetic masking. Decision weights were estimated by a regression of the listener's yes/no responses against the presence or absence of the signal and masker components. The decision weights and sensation levels (SLs) of the stimulus components were incorporated as factors in a model that predicts individual differences in IM based on the level variance (in dB) at the output of independent auditory filters [Lutfi, J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 94, 748-758 (1993)]. The results showed much individual variability in IM for the NH listeners (over 40 dB), but little IM for most HI listeners. When masker components were presented to a group of NH listeners at SLs similar to the HI listeners, IM was also similar to the HI listeners. IM was also similar for both groups when the level per masker component was 10 dB SL. These results suggest that reduced masker SLs for HI listeners decrease IM by effectively reducing masker variance. Weighting efficiencies, computed by comparing each listener's pattern of weights to that of an ideal analytic listener, were a good predictor of individual differences in IM among the NH listeners. For the HI listeners weighting efficiency and IM were unrelated because of the large variation in masker SLs among individual listeners, the small variance in IM, and perhaps because broadened auditory filters in some listeners increased the covariance in auditory filter outputs.
J. Alexander, R. Lutfi
The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America