Frequency selectivity of the human cochlea: Suppression tuning of spontaneous otoacoustic emissions

Geoffrey A. Manley, Pim van Dijk*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Frequency selectivity is a key functional property of the inner ear and since hearing research began, the frequency resolution of the human ear has been a central question. In contrast to animal studies, which permit invasive recording of neural activity, human studies must rely on indirect methods to determine hearing selectivity. Psychophysical studies, which used masking of a tone by other sounds, indicate a modest frequency selectivity in humans. By contrast, estimates using the phase delays of stimulus frequency otoacoustic emissions (SFOAE) predict a remarkably high selectivity, unique among mammals. An alternative measure of cochlear frequency selectivity are suppression tuning curves of spontaneous otoacoustic emissions (SOAE). Several animal studies show that these measures are in excellent agreement with neural frequency selectivity. Here we contribute a large data set from normal-hearing young humans on suppression tuning curves (STC) of spontaneous otoacoustic emissions (SOAE). The frequency selectivities of human STC measured near threshold levels agree with the earlier, much lower, psychophysical estimates. They differ, however, from the typical patterns seen in animal auditory nerve data in that the selectivity is remarkably independent of frequency. In addition, SOAE are suppressed by higher-level tones in narrow frequency bands clearly above the main suppression frequencies. These narrow suppression bands suggest interactions between the suppressor tone and a cochlear standing wave corresponding to the SOAE frequency being suppressed. The data show that the relationship between pre-neural mechanical processing in the cochlea and neural coding at the hair-cell/auditory nerve synapse needs to be reconsidered. (C) 2016 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-62
Number of pages10
JournalHearing Research
Publication statusPublished - Jun-2016


  • Human hearing
  • Frequency selectivity
  • Otoacoustic emissions
  • EAR

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