Improving the Reliability of Tinnitus Screening in Laboratory Animals

Aikeen Jones, Bradford J. May

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Behavioral screening remains a contentious issue for animal studies of tinnitus. Most paradigms base a positive tinnitus test on an animal’s natural tendency to respond to the “sound” of tinnitus as if it were an actual sound. As a result, animals with tinnitus are expected to display sound-conditioned behaviors when no sound is present or to miss gaps in background sounds because tinnitus “fills in the gap.” Reliable confirmation of the behavioral indications of tinnitus can be problematic because the reinforcement contingencies of conventional discrimination tasks break down an animal’s tendency to group tinnitus with sound. When responses in silence are rewarded, animals respond in silence regardless of their tinnitus status. When responses in silence are punished, animals stop responding. This study introduces stimulus classification as an alternative approach to tinnitus screening. Classification procedures train animals to respond to the common perceptual features that define a group of sounds (e.g., high pitch or narrow bandwidth). Our procedure trains animals to drink when they hear tinnitus and to suppress drinking when they hear other sounds. Animals with tinnitus are revealed by their tendency to drink in the presence of unreinforced probe sounds that share the perceptual features of the tinnitus classification. The advantages of this approach are illustrated by taking laboratory rats through a testing sequence that includes classification training, the experimental induction of tinnitus, and postinduction screening. Behavioral indications of tinnitus are interpreted and then verified by simulating a known tinnitus percept with objective sounds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)183-195
Number of pages13
JournalJARO - Journal of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017


  • conditioned suppression
  • perceptual grouping
  • salicylate
  • sound exposure
  • stimulus generalization
  • tinnitus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology
  • Sensory Systems


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