Loudness functions and frequency difference limens (DLFs) were measured in five subjects with steeply sloping high-frequency sensorineural hearing loss. The stimuli were pulsed pure tones encompassing a range of frequencies. Loudness data were obtained using a 2AFC matching procedure with a 500-Hz reference presented at a number of levels. DLFs were measured using a 3AFC procedure with intensities randomized within 6 dB around an equal-loudness level. Results showed significantly shallower loudness functions near the cutoff frequency of the loss than at a lower frequency, where hearing thresholds were near normal. DLFs were elevated, on average, relative to DLFs measured using the same procedure in five normally hearing subjects, but showed a local reduction near the cutoff frequency in most subjects with high-frequency loss. The loudness data are generally consistent with recent models that describe loudness perception in terms of peripheral excitation patterns that are presumably restricted by a steeply sloping hearing loss. However, the DLF data are interpreted with reference to animal experiments that have shown reorganization in the auditory cortex following the introduction of restricted cochlear lesions. Such reorganization results in an increase in the spatial representation of lesion-edge frequencies, and is comparable with the functional reorganization observed in animals following frequency-discrimination training. It is suggested that similar effects may occur in humans with steeply sloping high-frequency hearing loss, and therefore, the local reduction in DLFs in our data may reflect neural plasticity.

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