Dichotic Listening Test Performance In Children
Dichotic tests evaluate binaural integration through simultaneous presentation of different stimuli to each ear of a listener who has normal hearing sensitivity in both ears. Dichotic listening deficits may lead to problems with language, communication, reading, or academic performance. If accurately identified, dichotic deficits may be treatable with listening training or managed with accommodation. However, it is not clear which of several commercially-available dichotic test recordings are best for audiologists to use when assessing binaural integration in children.
Literature review revealed limited evidence of reliability, accuracy, usefulness, or value for dichotic tests applied to children. Of 11 dichotic tests identified, five reported some evidence of test-retest reliability. Correlation between results on repeated administration was moderate to good (r=0.59 to 0.92). Evidence of accuracy was identified for 5 tests but was not generalizable due to significant limitations in study design. No evidence was found to either support or dispute claims of usefulness or value.
Since reliability is a necessary prerequisite for good test performance, we sought to directly compare test-retest reliability for three dichotic measures: SCAN-3 Competing Words (CW), Musiek's Double Dichotic Digits (DD-M), and Bergen Dichotic Listening Test with Consonant-Vowel Syllables (CV-B). Sixty English-speaking children, 7-14 years old with normal hearing, had a single study-visit during which each test was administered twice. Changes on retest were compared to binomial model predictions, summarized by within-subject standard deviation (Sw), and compared among tests. Correlates of variance were explored. All 3 tests had reliability within bounds predicted by binomial model. Forty-item scores were more reliable (Sw=5%) than those based on 20-30 items (Sw=6-8%). No associations between participant characteristics and reliability were found.
CW and DD-M were evaluated for evidence of agreement and decision consistency. Although participants were rank ordered similarly by right ear (ρ = 0.58), left ear (ρ = 0.51) and total (ρ = 0.73) scores, the tests did not agree on ranking by inter-aural asymmetry (ρ = 0.18). CW and DD-M did not agree on direction of ear advantage (κ = 0.01, p = 0.93) and had poor agreement on which children displayed dichotic deficits (κ = 0.22, p < 0.01). DD identified significantly more participants with deficits (n=18) than CW (n=3) (p < 0.001).
Although dichotic procedures show moderate reliability, their precision is limited. Assessment of their accuracy is limited by the absence of a widely-accepted gold standard reference test, but two commonly used tests failed to agree on which children had deficits. The data do not yet support routine clinical use of dichotic tests of binaural integration with children. Additional research is needed to determine if there are any conditions under which dichotic procedures demonstrate usefulness or value.