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Brain fills gaps in sound

The development of a new generation of hearing aids that more or less imitate the way natural hearing works, has come a step closer. The problem with most hearing aids is that they amplify all sound, says German psychologist Lars Riecke, who also has a BA in Electrical Engineering. So not just the voice of your travel companion, which is what it is all about, but also the buzzing hum of other passengers and the announcements made by train conductors on the PA system. The result is a mess of sounds.
The brain is able to make a selection. What Riecke has discovered in his PhD research (using fMRI and EEG) is how and where this is done in the brain. “Experiments have shown that test subjects, despite interference, were able to keep hearing the desired sound, even if it was completely gone for a moment. The brain appears to create a flowing continuous sound by filling up information gaps, as it were. Vision actually works in much the same way. If you look at a bicycle that is behind a fence, you can see the whole bicycle even though parts of it are hidden behind the fence.”
Riecke, who is now a postdoc, has put the results in a theoretical model. The next step is to implement this model in a computer programme and thus to simulate what happens in the brain. German engineers have already shown an interest in the results of the Maastricht brain research.

 

Maurice Timmermans

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