Decoding sound’s source: Researchers unravel part of the mystery

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Posted October 2, 2013

As Baby Boomers age, many experience difficulty in hearing and understanding conversations in noisy environments such as restaurants. People who are hearing-impaired and who wear hearing aids or cochlear implants are even more severely impacted. Researchers know that the ability to locate the source of a sound with ease is vital to hear well in these types of situations, but much more information is needed to understand how hearing works to be able to design devices that work better in noisy environment.


Researchers from the Eaton-Peabody Laboratories of the Massachusetts Eye and Ear, Harvard Medical School, and Research Laboratory of Electronics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology have gained new insight into how localized hearing works in the brain. Their research is published in the Oct. 2, 2013 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

“Most people are able to locate the source of a sound with ease, for example, a snapping twig on the left, or a honking horn on the right. However this is actually a difficult problem for the brain to solve,” said Mitchell L. Day, Ph.D., investigator in the Eaton-Peabody Laboratories at Mass. Eye and Ear and instructor of Otology and Laryngology at Harvard Medical School “The higher levels of the brain that decide the direction a sound is coming from do not have access to the actual sound, but only the representation of that sound in the electrical activity of neurons at lower levels in the brain. How higher levels of the brain use information contained in the electrical activity of these lower-level neurons to create the perception of sound location is not known.”


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