Queen's University

New brain research could improve quality of hearing aids


A key finding by Queen’s University researchers could improve the design of hearing aids. The researchers have discovered that specific brain areas react and help listeners understand distorted speech. Engineers might use this finding to help guide them in designing hearing aids that will allow people to hear with minimal effort.

 “When speech is degraded and made more difficult to understand as a result of age-related hearing loss or by distortions from electronic transmission, listeners have to focus more to understand it. This is known as ‘effortful listening’,” says Conor Wild, who completed the research at the Queen’s Centre for Neuroscience Studies. “We demonstrated that specific frontal regions of the brain were engaged when listeners were actively trying to understand distorted speech. These areas were not active when speech was easy to understand.”

This brain activity provides a fingerprint of listening effort which is important when designing hearing aids. Prior to this research, measuring listening effort was difficult and further research into this brain activity might provide a quantifiable measure how much effort is expended when we try to understand degraded speech.

Afiqah Yusuk (Queen’s University and McGill University), Daryl Wilson (Queen’s University) Jonathan Peelle (MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, United Kingdom and the University of Pennsylvania), Matthew Davis (MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, United Kingdom) and Ingrid Johnsrude (Queen’s University) have also contributed to this research.

Mr. Wild is now a postdoctoral researcher at the Brain and Mind Institute at Western University.

The research was published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

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Last updated at 4:16 pm EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
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