Introduction: The cocktail-party problem refers to the difficulty listeners face when trying to attend to relevant sounds that are mixed with irrelevant ones. Previous studies have shown that solving these problems relies on perceptual as well as cognitive processes. Previously, we showed that speech-reception thresholds (SRTs) on a cocktail-party listening task were influenced by genetic factors. Here, we estimated the degree to which these genetic factors overlapped with those influencing cognitive abilities.
Methods: We measured SRTs and hearing thresholds (HTs) in 493 listeners, who ranged in age from 18 to 91 years old. The same individuals completed a cognitive test battery comprising 18 measures of various cognitive domains. Individuals belonged to large extended pedigrees, which allowed us to use variance component models to estimate the narrow-sense heritability of each trait, followed by phenotypic and genetic correlations between pairs of traits.
Results: All traits were heritable. The phenotypic and genetic correlations between SRTs and HTs were modest, and only the phenotypic correlation was significant. By contrast, all genetic SRT-cognition correlations were strong and significantly different from 0. For some of these genetic correlations, the hypothesis of complete pleiotropy could not be rejected.
Discussion: Overall, the results suggest that there was substantial genetic overlap between SRTs and a wide range of cognitive abilities, including abilities without a major auditory or verbal component. The findings highlight the important, yet sometimes overlooked, contribution of higher-order processes to solving the cocktail-party problem, raising an important caveat for future studies aiming to identify specific genetic factors that influence cocktail-party listening.
Mathias, S. R., Knowles, E. E. M., Mollon, J., Rodrigue, A. L., Woolsey, M. K., Hernandez, A. M., Garret, A. S., Fox, P. T., Olvera, R. L., Peralta, J. M., Kumar, S., Göring, H. H. H., Duggirala, R., Curran, J. E., Blangero, J., & Glahn, D. C. (2023). Cocktail-party listening and cognitive abilities show strong pleiotropy. Frontiers in neurology, 14, 1071766. https://doi.org/10.3389/fneur.2023.1071766
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Frontiers in neurology
Office of Human Genetics