Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Lend me your ears - and the world will sound very different

14.01.2008
Recognising people, objects or animals by the sound they make is an important survival skill and something most of us take for granted. But very similar objects can physically make very dissimilar sounds and we are able to pick up subtle clues about the identity and source of the sound.

Scientists funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) are working out how the human ear and the brain come together to help us understand our acoustic environment. They have found that the part of the brain that deals with sound, the auditory cortex, is adapted in each individual and tuned to the world around us. We learn throughout our lives how to localise and identify different sounds. It means that if you could hear the world through someone else's ears it would sound very different to what you are used to.

The research, which features in the current issue of BBSRC Business, could help to develop more sophisticated hearing aids and more effective speech recognition systems.

The research team at the University of Oxford, led by Dr Jan Schnupp, have studied the auditory cortex of the brain and discovered that its responses are determined not merely by acoustical properties, like frequency and pitch, but by statistical properties of the sound-scape. In the world loudness and pitch are constantly changing. The random shifts in sounds are underpinned with a statistical regularity. For example, subtle and gradual changes are statistically more regular than large and sudden changes. Dr Schnupp's team have found that our brains are adapted to the former; the neurons in the auditory cortex appear to anticipate and respond best to gradual changes in the soundscape. These are also the patterns most commonly found in both nature and musical compositions.

... more about:
»Cortex »Schnupp »auditory »neurons

Dr Schnupp, a research leader at the University of Oxford Auditory Neuroscience Group, said: "Our research to model speech sounds in the lab has shown that auditory neurons in the brain are adaptable and we learn how to locate and identify sounds. Each person's auditory cortex in their brain is adapted to way their ears deliver sound to them and their experience of the world. If you could borrow someone else's ears you would have real difficulty in locating the source of sounds, at least until your brain had relearned how to do it."

Dr Schnupp has also found that the auditory cortex does not have neurons sensitive to different aspects of sound. When the researchers look at how the auditory cortex responds to changes in pitch, timbre and frequency they saw that most neurons reacted to each change. Dr Schnupp explains: "In the closely related visual cortex there are different neurons for processing colour, form and motion. In the auditory cortex the neurons seem to overwhelmingly react to several of the different properties of sound. We are now investigating how they distinguish between pitch, spatial location and timbre.

"If we can understand how the auditory cortex has evolved to do this we may be able to apply the knowledge to develop hearing aids that can blot out background noise and speech recognition systems that can handle different accents."

The Oxford team's current project is using BBSRC funding to fit trained ferrets with harmless auditory implants. The animals are trained to respond to different sounds and the implants enable the team to observe the auditory neurons as the ferret responds to different sounds.

Professor Nigel Brown, BBSRC Director of Science and Technology, said: "This research is revealing how our senses work and how the brain interprets information from the ears. These BBSRC-funded studies of a fundamental biological process may bring exciting developments in helping people with hearing and other disabilities."

Matt Goode | alfa
Further information:
http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk

Further reports about: Cortex Schnupp auditory neurons

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht New yeast species discovered in Braunschweig, Germany
13.12.2019 | Leibniz-Institut DSMZ-Deutsche Sammlung von Mikroorganismen und Zellkulturen GmbH

nachricht Saliva test shows promise for earlier and easier detection of mouth and throat cancer
13.12.2019 | Elsevier

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Virus multiplication in 3D

Vaccinia viruses serve as a vaccine against human smallpox and as the basis of new cancer therapies. Two studies now provide fascinating insights into their unusual propagation strategy at the atomic level.

For viruses to multiply, they usually need the support of the cells they infect. In many cases, only in their host’s nucleus can they find the machines,...

Im Focus: Cheers! Maxwell's electromagnetism extended to smaller scales

More than one hundred and fifty years have passed since the publication of James Clerk Maxwell's "A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field" (1865). What would our lives be without this publication?

It is difficult to imagine, as this treatise revolutionized our fundamental understanding of electric fields, magnetic fields, and light. The twenty original...

Im Focus: Highly charged ion paves the way towards new physics

In a joint experimental and theoretical work performed at the Heidelberg Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics, an international team of physicists detected for the first time an orbital crossing in the highly charged ion Pr⁹⁺. Optical spectra were recorded employing an electron beam ion trap and analysed with the aid of atomic structure calculations. A proposed nHz-wide transition has been identified and its energy was determined with high precision. Theory predicts a very high sensitivity to new physics and extremely low susceptibility to external perturbations for this “clock line” making it a unique candidate for proposed precision studies.

Laser spectroscopy of neutral atoms and singly charged ions has reached astonishing precision by merit of a chain of technological advances during the past...

Im Focus: Ultrafast stimulated emission microscopy of single nanocrystals in Science

The ability to investigate the dynamics of single particle at the nano-scale and femtosecond level remained an unfathomed dream for years. It was not until the dawn of the 21st century that nanotechnology and femtoscience gradually merged together and the first ultrafast microscopy of individual quantum dots (QDs) and molecules was accomplished.

Ultrafast microscopy studies entirely rely on detecting nanoparticles or single molecules with luminescence techniques, which require efficient emitters to...

Im Focus: How to induce magnetism in graphene

Graphene, a two-dimensional structure made of carbon, is a material with excellent mechanical, electronic and optical properties. However, it did not seem suitable for magnetic applications. Together with international partners, Empa researchers have now succeeded in synthesizing a unique nanographene predicted in the 1970s, which conclusively demonstrates that carbon in very specific forms has magnetic properties that could permit future spintronic applications. The results have just been published in the renowned journal Nature Nanotechnology.

Depending on the shape and orientation of their edges, graphene nanostructures (also known as nanographenes) can have very different properties – for example,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

The Future of Work

03.12.2019 | Event News

First International Conference on Agrophotovoltaics in August 2020

15.11.2019 | Event News

Laser Symposium on Electromobility in Aachen: trends for the mobility revolution

15.11.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

Supporting structures of wind turbines contribute to wind farm blockage effect

13.12.2019 | Physics and Astronomy

Chinese team makes nanoscopy breakthrough

13.12.2019 | Physics and Astronomy

Tiny quantum sensors watch materials transform under pressure

13.12.2019 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>