Research study: understanding hearing through music

© Eckbert Schulz-Fotolia


A study that examines how musicians process speech in noisy environments with the aim of applying this knowledge to people with hearing loss.

The EU Research and Innovation Magazine reports on the SPIN study, funded by the European Research Council and carried out at the University of Lyon, France. Since musicians are known to have heightened perception of sounds, the study uses brain scans of musicians and non-musicians to decrypt the way people actually process sound, and the different cues in sound that they use.

Study findings show how individual people pinpoint the most important parts of sound, providing an image of a sound based on time and frequency that helps to identify the various cognitive mechanisms involved in speech perception. Studying these cues specifically showed that for a word or syllable that lasts 200 milliseconds, most people use cues just 10 to 50 milliseconds long to identify them.

“This is so short, tiny really, that it was difficult to isolate,” explains Dr Fanny Meunier, head of the auditory language processing research group at the University. “Our results strongly suggest that increased selective auditory attention abilities, over-trained in musicians, can benefit speech perception in noise.”

The hope is that targeted training of people with hearing loss based on these principles could help them to focus more specifically on important sound cues and to improve their ability to discriminate timing. Dr Meunier also hopes these findings can be used to improve cochlear implants and hearing aids to target essential auditory cues.