Sex differences in subcortical auditory processing only partially explain higher prevalence of language disorders in males

Jennifer Krizman, Silvia Bonacina, Nina Kraus*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Males and females differ in their subcortical evoked responses to sound. For many evoked response measures, the sex difference is driven by a faster developmental decline of auditory processing in males. Using the frequency-following response (FFR), an evoked potential that reflects predominately midbrain processing of stimulus features, sex differences were identified in the response to the temporal envelope of speech. The pattern of later and smaller responses in males versus females is consistent with two of the three response features that track with language development and reading abilities. Therefore, here we analyzed subcortical response consistency, the third distinguishing feature of language ability. Furthermore, though the envelope is primarily a low-frequency response, the greatest sex differences were observed in harmonics encoding. To better understand these sex differences, we extended these findings to the temporal fine structure response, which is biased to high-frequency information. Using the same 516 participants as previously reported (Krizman et al., 2019), we analyzed the effect of sex across development on response consistency and the encoding of temporal fine structure, as indexed by the subtracted frequency-following response. We found that while males and females did not differ on response consistency, there was an effect of age on this measure. Moreover, while males still showed a faster decline in harmonic encoding, the magnitude and breadth of the sex differences were smaller (accounting for 2% variance) in the temporal fine structure response compared to the envelope response. These results suggest that sex differences are distinct, at least in part, from the differences that underlie language abilities and that developmental sex differences reflect subcortical auditory processing differences of both the temporal envelope and fine structure of sounds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number108075
JournalHearing research
StatePublished - Dec 2020


  • Auditory midbrain
  • Frequency-following response
  • Maturation
  • Sex differences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sensory Systems


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