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Hearing words in a sea of noise: Does musical training and second language learning help?

  • School: School of Social Sciences
  • Study mode(s): Full-time / Part-time
  • Starting: 2023
  • Funding: UK student / EU student (non-UK) / International student (non-EU) / Fully-funded


NTU's Fully-funded PhD Studentship Scheme 2023

Project ID: S3 20

Perceiving speech in the presence of background noise (speech-in-noise, or SIN), as is the case in most real-world listening situations, is challenging. This is particularly true for older adults, who, due to these difficulties may find themselves more socially isolated and withdrawn, leading to a poorer quality of life. Some kinds of experience (training) may give some protection against age-related hearing decline for older adults. This project will investigate two possibilities: musical training, and 2nd language learning.

Musicians have better SIN perception than non-musicians. Second-language learning is also associated with improvements. This has led to the idea that they may protect against the effects of age. It is clear that musical training is associated with various cognitive (e.g., improved working memory, enhanced executive function, etc.) and auditory (e.g., improved speech perception, higher sensitivity to acoustic cues, etc.) benefits. But how does such experience help?  Better SIN perception, for example, has been associated with enhanced neural encoding of pitch; better sensitivity to rhythm; and greater auditory working memory. And are these relationships causally driven by the experience?

This project aims to understand relationships and the underlying mechanisms, between musical training, second language learning and SIN perception. You will design experimental studies, comparing auditory and SIN perception using behavioural (psychophysics) and electrophysiological (electroencephalography, or EEG) measures, and look at the effects of musical and language training. Findings from your studies will have implications for establishing early interventions to slow down age-related hearing decline among older adults.

We are looking for a highly motivated student to join our multi-disciplinary team in the Hearing Research Group based in NTU Psychology. We encourage students who want to receive further training in hearing, perception, cognition, neuroscience and music cognition to apply.

Coffey EBJ et al. (2017). Speech-in-noise perception in musicians: A review. Hearing Research 352, 49-69. doi: 10.1016/j.heares.2017.02.006.

Supervisory Team:

Director of Studies: Dr Jia Hoong Ong (Psychology)

2nd Supervisor: Dr Chris Sumner (Psychology)

3rd Supervisor: Dr Alexander Hardy (Psychology)

Entry qualifications

For the eligibility criteria, visit our studentship application page.

How to apply

To make an application, please visit our studentship application page.

Fees and funding

This is part of NTU's 2023 fully-funded PhD Studentship Scheme.

Guidance and support

Application guidance can be found on our studentship application page.

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