The Medial Olivocochlear Reflex Is Unlikely to Play a Role in Listening Difficulties in Children
Trends in Hearing
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The medial olivocochlear reflex (MOCR) has been implicated in several auditory processes. The putative role of the MOCR in improving speech perception in noise is particularly relevant for children who complain of listening difficulties (LiD). The hypothesis that the MOCR may be impaired in individuals with LiD or auditory processing disorder has led to several investigations but without consensus. In two related studies, we compared the MOCR functioning of children with LiD and typically developing (TD) children in the same age range (7–17 years). In Study 1, we investigated ipsilateral, contralateral, and bilateral MOCR using forward-masked click-evoked otoacoustic emissions (CEOAEs; n = 17 TD, 17 LiD). In Study 2, we employed three OAE types: CEOAEs (n = 16 TD, 21 LiD), stimulus frequency OAEs (n = 21 TD, 30 LiD), and distortion product OAEs (n = 17 TD, 22 LiD) in a contralateral noise paradigm. Results from both studies suggest that the MOCR functioning is not significantly different between the two groups. Some likely reasons for differences in findings among published studies could stem from the lack of strict data quality measures (e.g., high signal-to-noise ratio, control for the middle ear muscle reflex) that were enforced in the present study. The inherent variability of the MOCR, the subpar reliability of current MOCR methods, and the heterogeneity in auditory processing deficits that underlie auditory processing disorder make detecting clinically relevant differences in MOCR function impractical using current methods.