Inconsistent effects of stochastic resonance on human auditory processing

Rufener, Katharina S., Kauk, Julian, Ruhnau, Philipp orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-6546-7312, Repplinger, Stefan, Heil, Peter and Zaehle, Tino (2020) Inconsistent effects of stochastic resonance on human auditory processing. Scientific Reports, 10 (1). ISSN 2045-2322

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It has been demonstrated that, while otherwise detrimental, noise can improve sensory perception under optimal conditions. The mechanism underlying this improvement is stochastic resonance. An inverted U-shaped relationship between noise level and task performance is considered as the signature of stochastic resonance. Previous studies have proposed the existence of stochastic resonance also in the human auditory system. However, the reported beneficial effects of noise are small, based on a small sample, and do not confirm the proposed inverted U-shaped function. Here, we investigated in two separate studies whether stochastic resonance may be present in the human auditory system by applying noise of different levels, either acoustically or electrically via transcranial random noise stimulation, while participants had to detect acoustic stimuli adjusted to their individual hearing threshold. We find no evidence for behaviorally relevant effects of stochastic resonance. Although detection rate for near-threshold acoustic stimuli appears to vary in an inverted U-shaped manner for some subjects, it varies in a U-shaped manner or in other manners for other subjects. Our results show that subjects do not benefit from noise, irrespective of its modality. In conclusion, our results question the existence of stochastic resonance in the human auditory system.

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