During the past Falling Walls conference in Berlin, Germany, researchers from Northwestern University were able to establish – through lab tests, how our brain processes sound and language; and how the ability can be applied to managing learning and hearing disabilities.
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Professor Nina Kraus of Northwestern’s Auditory Neuroscience Lab in the School of Communication presented the findings of her team, saying one of the most complex tasks that human brain processes is making sense of sound.
“The sounds of our lives change our brain,” said Kraus. “In our lab, we investigate how our life in sound changes the brain, and how different forms of enrichment or decline influence how our brain processes sound.”
The researchers recruited participants who got music or speech piped directly into their ears, and a measurement of their brain’s response to the sounds was evaluated. The electrical signals in the brain of the participants were measured via sensors coupled to their heads, as the brain made a sense of sounds.
The team of researchers was able to discover that aging, hearing loss, language difficulties, playing music, and learning a new language among other things impacts on the ability of the individual’s brain to process sounds and make a meaning of them.
Regardless of the age of the individual, researchers found that musicians are able to analyze sounds and they hear better in noise than others that don’t engage in music; and that poverty levels as well as the education level of mothers can impact on how well their child’s brain processes elements of sounds.
“We’re able to look at how the brain processes essential ingredients in sound, which are rooted in pitch and timing and timbre,” Kraus said at Falling Walls. “A mixing board is a good analogy. It’s very fine tuning.”
Also a Huge Knowles professor of Communication Sciences, Kraus disclosed that the brain is tasked to its limits when it processes information in microseconds, and that the most computational activity that our brain engages in is interpreting sounds within microseconds.
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“It’s not surprising that one of the first problems we encounter with so many disorders – you get hit in the head, have a psychiatric problem or simply get older – is understanding sound in a complex environment, like hearing a friend’s voice in a noisy place. Sound processing in the brain really is a measure of brain health,” she revealed.