Researchers at the famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) might have cracked the code on one of hearing’s most bewildering mysteries, and the future design of hearing aids could get an overhaul based on their findings.
The enduring notion that voices are singled out by neural processing has been debunked by an MIT study. According to the study, it may actually be a biochemical filter that enables us to tune in to specific levels of sound.
How Background Noise Effects Our Ability to Hear
Only a small fraction of the millions of people who suffer from hearing loss actually use hearing aids to manage it.
Though a significant boost in one’s ability to hear can be the result of wearing a hearing aid, those that use a hearing-improvement device have commonly still had trouble in settings with copious amounts of background noise. For instance, the constant buzz associated with settings like restaurants and parties can wreak havoc on a person’s ability to single out a voice.
Having a discussion with somebody in a crowded room can be upsetting and annoying and individuals who suffer from hearing loss know this all too well.
Scientists have been closely investigating hearing loss for decades. Due to those efforts, the way in which sound waves travel throughout the inner ear, and how the ear distinguishes different frequencies of sounds, was thought to be well-understood.
Scientists Discover The Tectorial Membrane
However, it was in 2007 that scientists discovered the tectorial membrane inside of the inner ear’s cochlea. The ear is the only place on the body you will see this gel-like membrane. The deciphering and delineation of sound is accomplished by a mechanical filtering carried out by this membrane and that might be the most fascinating thing.
Minuscule in size, the tectorial membrane sits on tiny hairs within the cochlea, with small pores that manage how water moves back and forth in reaction to vibrations. Researchers observed that different frequencies of sound reacted differently to the amplification produced by the membrane.
The frequencies at the highest and lowest end of the spectrum seemed to be less affected by the amplification, but the study found strong amplification in the middle tones.
Some scientists think that more effective hearing aids that can better distinguish individual voices will be the outcome of this groundbreaking MIT study.
The Future of Hearing Aid Design
The basic principles of hearing aid design haven’t changed very much over the years. Tweaks and fine-tuning have helped with some improvements, but the majority of hearing aids are generally comprised of microphones which receive sounds and a loudspeaker that amplifies them. Unfortunately, that’s where one of the design’s drawbacks becomes clear.
All frequencies are boosted with an amplification device including background noise. Another MIT researcher has long believed tectorial membrane exploration could lead to new hearing aid designs that provide better speech recognition for wearers.
The user of these new hearing aids could, in theory, tune in to an individual voice as the hearing aid would be able to tune specific frequencies. Only the chosen frequencies would be boosted with these hearing aids and everything else would be left alone.
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