(Section Introduction, from The Neurosciences and Music III: Disorders and Plasticity — Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Vol 1169)

Thirty years ago we never could have imagined the widespread success that cochlear implants (CIs) have achieved today. Although the sound that is heard by the CI wearer is quite different from what a person with normal hearing perceives, CI users of all ages learn to decipher the electrical signal generated by the CI, and with time are able to (re)gain the ability to understand speech in quiet environments.

A common theme running through this section is that sensory processing is modified by use and experience. Performance is therefore not simply dependent on sensory capacity or the CI device, but draws upon experience-dependent plasticity and top-down (cognitive) processes, such as memory and motivation. This explains, in part, why there is high individual variation in performance among CI wearers, why individuals who engage in music training before or after implantation often exhibit better performance on music discrimination tasks, and why children with implants enjoy listening to and producing music.