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Hearing Research at NTU

Unit(s) of assessment: Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience

School: School of Social Sciences


Hearing Research at NTU undertake research into the psychological, biological and computational basis of hearing, and hearing impairment.

Nine million people in the UK are classified as deaf or hard of hearing. The principal cause of this is damage to the delicate inner ear. Current hearing aids and cochlear implants partly restore our ability to hear. However, they perform poorly when aiding understanding of speech in more challenging circumstances. Understanding speech in noisy environments is a complex task for all of us, and its mechanisms are poorly understood; it involves interplay between the ears and multiple processing centres of the brain.

Our group studies how we perceive and process sound, and how this is affected by factors such as hearing impairment, cognition, age, cochlear implants, and other sensory information. By improving understanding of communication pathways between the ear and the brain, and the factors affecting these pathways, we aim to provide improved strategies for identifying risk factors that lead to reduced hearing and improve diagnosis and treatment strategies for hearing impairment and its related conditions.

PhD studentships –Deadline 14th January 2022

Expecting Thunderclaps then Lightning Strikes: How do we integrate sound and light in a complex world? SSS28

Hearing the sound of thunder after seeing lightning is an unusual percept. Most of the time our brain we perceive light and sound synchronously, even though light and sound travel at different speeds, and the senses process at different speeds. But determines when, for example we perceive speech and lip-movements to be out of sync? This project seeks to investigate how the nature of the sensory inputs (e.g. sudden like a bang or slowly like a car approaching), experience and prior information influence the integration (or not) of inputs from the different senses. This project will address these questions using a multidisciplinary approach; combining behavioural methods (psychophysics) to measure perception, brain imaging (electroencephalography; EEG) to uncover the underlying neural processing and Bayesian computational models to interpret these data.

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Improving hearing aid fitting: “Decoding” of naturally spoken speech from brain waves using machine-learning algorithms S&T77

Currently, hearing aids are set up by audiologists, by observing a subject’s behavioural response to quiet tones in silence (“Can you hear this sound?”). Alternatively, the electrical waves that emanate from the brain (electro-encephalography or EEG) can be used to evaluate hearing function. It is possible to “decode” how well the listener hears speech from EEG waves. However, the accuracy of current algorithms is limited, especially in realistic, noisy situations. This Project will investigate the use of Deep Neural Networks (DNNs) make decoding speech more accurate, allowing for automatic fitting of hearing aids and hearing function assessment.

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Understanding how individual differences in hearing impairment and age impact on audio-visual speech perception (contact for funding options)

For the one in six people who struggle to hear and thus to communicate, being able to see a talker’s face provides additional information which boosts their ability to understand speech, particularly in noisy environments where hearing aids are often not of much help. However, the benefits of this are variable, not well understood, and little account of this is taken in healthcare provision.

This project will study how individuals vary in this process, with a view to characterising and understanding the benefits that individuals derive from visual cues to speech: with normal hearing, with impaired hearing and the influence of age. Advanced analysis methods and specially designed perceptual experiments will be used to understand these differences and the circumstances under which they vary. Ultimately, this may facilitate individualised treatment of hearing problems which accounts for and maximises communication as a multisensory process.

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The Hearing Research group works with the following institutions:

University of Nottingham

Kings College London

University of Cambridge

Purdue University, USA

Imperial College London

University of Manchester

University of Leicester

University of Southampton

Technical University of Denmark