Olivocochlear efferent effects on perception and behavior

Amanda M. Lauer, Sergio Vicencio Jimenez, Paul H. Delano

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The role of the mammalian auditory olivocochlear efferent system in hearing has long been the subject of debate. Its ability to protect against damaging noise exposure is clear, but whether or not this is the primary function of a system that evolved in the absence of industrial noise remains controversial. Here we review the behavioral consequences of olivocochlear activation and diminished olivocochlear function. Attempts to demonstrate a role for hearing in noise have yielded conflicting results in both animal and human studies. A role in selective attention to sounds in the presence of distractors, or attention to visual stimuli in the presence of competing auditory stimuli, has been established in animal models, but again behavioral studies in humans remain equivocal. Auditory processing deficits occur in models of congenital olivocochlear dysfunction, but these deficits likely reflect abnormal central auditory development rather than direct effects of olivocochlear feedback. Additional proposed roles in age-related hearing loss, tinnitus, hyperacusis, and binaural or spatial hearing, are intriguing, but require additional study. These behavioral studies almost exclusively focus on medial olivocochlear effects, and many relied on lesioning techniques that can have unspecific effects. The consequences of lateral olivocochlear and of corticofugal pathway activation for perception remain unknown. As new tools for targeted manipulation of olivocochlear neurons emerge, there is potential for a transformation of our understanding of the role of the olivocochlear system in behavior across species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number108207
JournalHearing Research
StatePublished - Jun 2022


  • Auditory efferent
  • Hearing in noise
  • Olivocochlear
  • Psychoacoustics
  • Selective attention
  • Spatial hearing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sensory Systems


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