The critical bandwidth (CBW) is an auditory phenomenon that has been used to study various aspects of auditory processing, including auditory masking, complex tone processing, and loudness perception. Although the psychoacoustic aspects of the CBW have been well studied, the underlying neurophysiology of the CBW has not been as thoroughly examined. The current study examined the neurophysiology of the CBW in young adults, as well as loudness perception in response to the CBW. Auditory stimuli consisting of complex tones of varying bandwidths were presented to 12 individuals (6 male and 6 female, ages 18-26 years). Complex tones were presented around center frequencies (CFs) of 250, 500, 1000, and 3000 Hz at bandwidths of 2, 5, 8, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000, and 2000 Hz. Participants made loudness perception judgments while electroencephalography measured and recorded components of the event related potentials (ERPs) in response to the acoustic stimuli. Reaction time (RT) was recorded for each behavioral response, and the latencies of the N1, P2, C3, and C4 components of the ERPs were obtained. The results showed that RT increased with increasing bandwidth followed by a decrease in RT corresponding approximately with the CBW. This indicated that participants perceived a change in loudness at bandwidths greater than the CBW. Significant differences, p < .05, in RT were observed in bandwidths of 5 Hz and greater, although there was not complete consistency in this observation across all CFs and bandwidths. No significant critical band-like behavior amongst ERP latencies was observed. The results indicated that responses to acoustic stimuli originating in the superior temporal gyrus progressed to areas of higher neural function in the mid-temporal lobe. It was observed that each response must be processed temporally and independently to determine if a frequency difference is present for each stimulus. This observation is significant because this type of processing had not been identified prior to the current study.



College and Department

David O. McKay School of Education; Communication Disorders



Date Submitted


Document Type





auditory cortex, auditory processing, brain mapping, critical bandwidth, dipole localization, electroencephalography, event related potentials