Effect of Menstrual Cycle Hormone Variations on Dichotic Listening Results

 

Richard Morris – Richard.morris@cci.fsu.edu

Alissa Smith

 

Florida State University

Tallahassee, Florida

 

Popular version of poster presentation 2pSCb11, “Effect of menstrual phase on dichotic listening”

Presented Tuesday afternoon, November 3, 2015, 3:30 PM, Grand Ballroom 8

 

How speech is processed by the brain has long been of interest to researchers and clinicians. One method to evaluate how the two sides of the brain work when hearing speech is called a dichotic listening task. In a dichotic listening task two words are presented simultaneously to a participant’s left and right ears via headphones. One word is presented to the left ear and a different one to the right ear. These words are spoken at the same pitch and loudness levels. The listener then indicates what word was heard. If the listener regularly reports hearing the words presented to one ear, then there is an ear advantage. Since most language processing occurs in the left hemisphere of the brain, most listeners attend more closely to the right ear. The regular selection of the word presented to the right ear is termed a right ear advantage (REA).

Previous researchers reported different responses from males and females to dichotic presentation of words. Those investigators found that males more consistently heard the word presented to the right ear and demonstrated a stronger REA. The female listeners in those studies exhibited more variability as to the ear of the word that was heard. Further research seemed to indicate that women exhibit different lateralization of speech processing at different phases of their menstrual cycle. In addition, data from recent studies indicate that the degree to which women can focus on the input to one ear or the other varies with their menstrual cycle.

However, the previous studies used a small number of participants. The purpose of the present study was to complete a dichotic listening study with a larger sample of female participants. In addition, the previous studies focused on women who did not take oral contraceptives as they were assumed to have smaller shifts in the lateralization of speech processing. Although this hypothesis is reasonable, it needs to be tested. For this study, it was hypothesized that the women would exhibit a greater REA during the days that they menstruate than during other days of their menstrual cycle. This hypothesis was based on the previous research reports. In addition, it was hypothesized that the women taking oral contraceptives will exhibit smaller fluctuations in the lateralization of their speech processing.

Participants in the study were 64 females, 19-25 years of age. Among the women 41 were taking oral contraceptives (OC) and 23 were not. The participants listened to the sound files during nine sessions that occurred once per week. All of the women were in good general health and had no speech, language, or hearing deficits.

The dichotic listening task was executed using the Alvin software package for speech perception research. The sound file consisted of consonant-vowel syllables comprised of the six plosive consonants /b/, /d/, /g/, /p/, /t/, and /k/ paired with the vowel “ah”. The listeners heard the syllables over stereo headphones. Each listener set the loudness of the syllables to a comfortable level.

At the beginning of the listening session, each participant wrote down the date of the initiation of her most recent menstrual period on a participant sheet identified by her participant number. Then, they heard the recorded syllables and indicated the consonant heard by striking that key on the computer keyboard. Each listening session consisted of three presentations of the syllables. There were different randomizations of the syllables for each presentation. In the first presentation, the stimuli will be presented in a non-forced condition. In this condition the listener indicted the plosive that she heard most clearly. After the first presentation, the experimental files were presented in a manner referred to as a forced left or right condition. In these two conditions the participant was directed to focus on the signal in the left or right ear. The sequence of focus on signal to the left ear or to the right ear was counterbalanced over the sessions.

The statistical analyses of the listeners’ responses revealed that no significant differences occurred between the women using oral contraceptives and those who did not. In addition, correlations between the day of the women’s menstrual cycle and their responses were consistently low. However, some patterns did emerge for the women’s responses across the experimental sessions as opposed to the days of their menstrual cycle. The participants in both groups exhibited a higher REA and lower percentage of errors for the final sessions in comparison to earlier sessions.

The results from the current subjects differ from those previously reported. Possibly the larger sample size of the current study, the additional month of data collection, or the data recording method affected the results. The larger sample size might have better represented how most women respond to dichotic listening tasks. The additional month of data collection may have allowed the women to learn how to respond to the task and then respond in a more consistent manner. The short data collection period may have confused the learning to respond to a novel task with a hormonally dependent response. Finally, previous studies had the experimenter record the subjects’ responses. That method of data recording may have added bias to the data collection. Further studies with large data sets and multiple months of data collection are needed to determine any sex and oral contraceptive use effects on REA.

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