Athleticism and sex impact neural processing of sound

Jennifer Krizman, Silvia Bonacina, Danielle Colegrove, Rembrandt Otto-Meyer, Trent Nicol, Nina Kraus*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Biology and experience both influence the auditory brain. Sex is one biological factor with pervasive effects on auditory processing. Females process sounds faster and more robustly than males. These differences are linked to hormone differences between the sexes. Athleticism is an experiential factor known to reduce ongoing neural noise, but whether it influences how sounds are processed by the brain is unknown. Furthermore, it is unknown whether sports participation influences auditory processing differently in males and females, given the well-documented sex differences in auditory processing seen in the general population. We hypothesized that athleticism enhances auditory processing and that these enhancements are greater in females. To test these hypotheses, we measured auditory processing in collegiate Division I male and female student-athletes and their non-athlete peers (total n = 1012) using the frequency-following response (FFR). The FFR is a neurophysiological response to sound that reflects the processing of discrete sound features. We measured across-trial consistency of the response in addition to fundamental frequency (F0) and harmonic encoding. We found that athletes had enhanced encoding of the harmonics, which was greatest in the female athletes, and that athletes had more consistent responses than non-athletes. In contrast, F0 encoding was reduced in athletes. The harmonic-encoding advantage in female athletes aligns with previous work linking harmonic encoding strength to female hormone levels and studies showing estrogen as mediating athlete sex differences in other sensory domains. Lastly, persistent deficits in auditory processing from previous concussive and repetitive subconcussive head trauma may underlie the reduced F0 encoding in athletes, as poor F0 encoding is a hallmark of concussion injury.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number15181
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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