Electrically enhanced sounds easier for brain to detect

People with hearing difficulties often find it hard to isolate a single sound in a noisy environment (e.g. when having a conversation in a busy cafe). This becomes easier when the target sound is enhanced by a weak electrical charge sent via the skull to the brain. This according to a study conducted by Maastricht University and published in the scientific journal Current Biology. The fundamental study forms the basis for future clinical research.

People who wear hearing aids know how frustrating it can be to hold a conversation in a noisy environment. These hearing aids not only enhance the target sound, but also the general murmur in the room.

The publication 'Endogenous delta/theta sound-brain phase entrainment accelerates the build-up of auditory streaming' describes how healthy test subjects can isolate a specific sound from background noise more quickly if the rhythm of that sound is enhanced with a weak and rhythmic electrical current to the brain. 'The rhythmic current is applied safely to the scalp and makes it easier to distinguish rhythmic sound from background noise - an approach comparable to lip reading,' says researcher Lars Riecke, who published the method's underlying principle in April of this year. 'This study more closely resembles a practical setting, although we did have participants listen to chords as the target sound, whereas in real life they'd listen to conversations at a cocktail party, for example. That will be the next step. If the same principle applies in that context as well, we can then start thinking about clinical trials.' Riecke is currently busy acquiring funds for the follow-up study.

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