The Role of the Medial Olivocochlear Reflex in Acceptable Noise Level in Adults


Background: The acceptable noise level (ANL) is a measurement used to quantify how much noise a person is willing to accept while listening to speech. ANL has been used to predict success with hearing aid use. However, physiological correlates of the ANL are poorly understood. One potential physiological correlate is the medial olivocochlear reflex (MOCR), which decreases the output of the cochlea and is thereby expected to increase noise tolerance.

Purpose: This study investigates the relationship between contralateral activation of the MOCR and tolerance of background noise.

Research Design: This study recruited 22 young adult participants with normal hearing. ANL was measured using the Arizona Travelogue recording under headphones presented at the most comfortable level (MCL) with and without multitalker babble noise. The MOCR strength was evaluated in all participants by measuring the cochlear microphonic (CM) with and without 40 dB sound pressure level contralateral broadband noise (CBBN).

Data Analysis: The CM observed in response to a 500-Hz tone was measured with and without CBBN, and changes in response to fast Fourier transform amplitude at 500 Hz were used as an indicator of the MOCR effect. The ANL was calculated by subtracting the maximum acceptable background noise level from the MCL. Participants were divided into two groups based on their ANL: low-ANL (ANL < 7 dB) and moderate-ANL (ANL ≥ 7 dB). An independent samples t -test was used to compare CM enhancement between low-ANL and moderate-ANL groups. Additionally, Pearson's correlation was used to investigate the relationship between the ANL and the MOCR effect on the CM.

Results: The results indicated that presentation of CBBN increased the CM amplitude, consistent with eliciting the MOCR. Participants in the low-ANL group had significantly larger CM enhancement than moderate-ANL participants. The results further revealed a significant correlation between the ANL and the MOCR effect on the CM.

Conclusion: This study suggests that a stronger MOCR, as assessed using CM enhancement, is associated with greater noise tolerance. This research provides a possible objective measure to predict background tolerance in patients and adds to our understanding about the MOCR function in humans.


Communication Sciences and Disorders

Document Type





acceptable noise level, cochlear microphonic, efferent system, electrocochleography, medial olivocochlear reflex

Publication Date


Journal Title

Journal of the American Academy of Audiology