Listening effectively in multi-talker environments
We study how healthy hearing works and the basis of hearing disability.
Hearing is the sense which we use to perceive sounds and communicate verbally with others. One in five adults in the UK are thought to have hearing loss, which will increase as the UK’s population ages in coming years. Even a mild hearing difficulty can cause serious disability by interfering with our ability to socialise. People with hearing loss find it particularly difficult to hear in noisy settings, such as a crowded restaurant, where most social interactions occur. Unfortunately, hearing aids also don’t work well in these environments. The problem is that sounds of all the voices and background noise arrive at the ear as a mixture. Therefore, to listen attentively to just one voice, the brain must separate the parts of the sound wave that are associated with each voice in the room. This is a complicated, fragile, and poorly understood process, but previous studies have shown that the tonal quality, or “pitch”, of a sound helps our brain focus on a single voice.
Our research aims to better understand the role that pitch plays in helping our brain focus on a single voice in these noisy settings. We also study how our use of pitch cues changes with natural ageing and hearing loss. This will help us better understand the biological bases of attentive listening. This research also aims to help guide the development of new tests for hearing problems and hearing device improvements.
This work is supported by the RCS England and Oxfordshire Health Research Committee.
Would you like to participate?
Our work relies on volunteers with normal hearing as well as those with hearing. Please email the team if you would like to take part.