“Researchers

Researchers at the famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) may have cracked the code on one of hearing’s most mystifying mysteries, and the future design of hearing aids might get an overhaul based on their findings.

The enduring idea that voices are isolated 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

While millions of people fight hearing loss, only a fraction of them attempt to deal with that hearing loss using hearing aids.

Though a major boost in one’s ability to hear can be the result of using a hearing aid, environments with lots of background noise have typically been an issue for individuals who use a hearing improvement device. A person’s ability to single out voices, for example, can be severely reduced in settings like a party or restaurant where there is a constant din of background noise.

Having a discussion with somebody in a crowded room can be upsetting and annoying and people who cope with hearing loss know this all too well.

Scientists have been closely studying hearing loss for decades. As a result of 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.

The Tectorial Membrane is Identified

But the tectorial membrane wasn’t discovered by scientists until 2007. The ear is the only place on the body you will see this gel-like membrane. What really fascinated scientists was how the membrane provides mechanical filtering that can decipher and delineate between sounds.

When vibration enters the ear, the tiny tectorial membrane controls how water moves in response using small pores as it rests on little hairs in the cochlea. Researchers observed that different frequencies of sound reacted differently to the amplification made by the membrane.

The middle tones were shown to have strong amplification and the frequencies at the lower and higher ends of the spectrum were less impacted.

Some scientists believe that more effective hearing aids that can better identify individual voices will be the result of this groundbreaking MIT study.

The Future of Hearing Aid Design

For years, the general design principles of hearing aids have remained rather unchanged. Tweaks and fine-tuning have helped with some improvements, but most hearing aids are generally made up of microphones that receive sounds and a loudspeaker that amplifies them. Regrettably, that’s where one of the design’s shortcomings becomes clear.

All frequencies are increased with an amplification device and that includes background noise. Tectorial membrane research could, according to another MIT scientist, result in new, innovative hearing aid designs which would offer better speech recognition.

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 distinct frequencies. Only the desired frequencies would be boosted with these hearing aids and everything else would be left alone.

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References

https://www.machinedesign.com/motion-control/researchers-discover-secret-how-we-can-pick-out-voice-crowd
http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2019-01/16/c_137749535.htm
https://medicalxpress.com/news/2010-11-tuning-mechanism.html

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