Sunday, 28 July 2013

Brain Picks out Salient Sounds from Background Noise by Tracking Frequency and Time, Study Finds

July 23, 2013 — New research reveals how our brains are able to pick out important sounds from the noisy world around us. The findings, published online today in the journal eLife, could lead to new diagnostic tests for hearing disorders.

Our ears can effortlessly pick out the sounds we need to hear from a noisy environment -- hearing our mobile phone ringtone in the middle of the Notting Hill Carnival, for example -- but how our brains process this information (the so-called 'cocktail party problem') has been a longstanding research question in hearing science.

Researchers have previously investigated this using simple sounds such as two tones of different pitches, but now researchers at UCL and Newcastle University have used complicated sounds that are more representative of those we hear in real life. The team used 'machine-like beeps' that overlap in both frequency and time to recreate a busy sound environment and obtain new insights into how the brain solves this problem.

In the study, groups of volunteers were asked to identify target sounds from within this noisy background in a series of experiments.

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