Increasing cognitive interference modulates the amplitude of the auditory brainstem response

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Background: Despite the presence of efferent neural pathways from the cortex to brainstem, evidence for cognitive inhibition and sensory gating on the auditory brainstem has been mixed. Some previous studies have suggested auditory brainstem responses (ABR) can be affected by cognitive load whereas others have not. Purpose: The present study explores if the ABR recorded from adults with normal hearing was affected by increased cognitive load involving cognitive interference. Research Design: Within-subject repeated measures. Study Sample: Twenty young adults with normal hearing (ten females and ten males, aged 21–26 yr). Data Collection and Analysis: ABRs were collected with and without cognitive load (a visual Stroop task). Two measures of cognitive interference, that is, the ability to suppress task-irrelevant input, were derived from the performance on the Stroop task. Results: No main effect of cognitive load on ABR wave V amplitudes was found. Participants with higher cognitive interference showed increased response times and larger decreases in ABR wave V amplitudes from the no cognitive load to cognitive load conditions. Conclusions: The present study showed that ABR wave V amplitudes did not change with increased overall cognitive load (cognitive load with and without cognitive interference), but ABR amplitude was related to cognitive interference. Increased cognitive load in the form of increased cognitive interference could trigger cognitive inhibition and/or sensory gating to suppress the processing of task-irrelevant information at the level of the brainstem. This suppression could present as reduced ABR wave V amplitudes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)512-519
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Audiology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Jun 1

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Neurology
  • Otorhinolaryngology


  • ABR
  • Accuracy
  • Amplitude
  • Attention
  • Brainstem
  • Cognition
  • Cognitive load
  • Cognitive performance
  • Cognitive resources
  • Normal hearing
  • Response time
  • Stroop task


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