Researchers have found a method that could potentially be used to improve auditory perception in situations where sounds are difficult to distinguish.
Despite the importance of hearing in human communication, we still have little understanding of how acoustic signals are perceived and processed to allow us to grasp them.
But one thing is clear: the more accurate we can distinguish patterns of sound, the better our hearing.
But how does the brain manage to distinguish between relevant and less relevant information – especially in the background with background noise?
Researchers led by prof. Dr Tania Rinaldi Barkat of the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel investigated the neuronal basis of sound perception and sound discrimination in challenging sound environments.
The focus was on researching the auditory cortex – the "auditory brain", that is, the area of the brain that processes acoustic stimuli.
As a result of activity patterns, measurements are made in the mouse brain, according to a study published in Cell Reports.
As is well known, the difference between the sounds becomes harder and closer to those in the frequency spectrum.
Initially, researchers hypothesized that additional noise could make such a task more difficult.
However, the opposite was noted: The team was able to prove that the brain's ability to detect subtle differences in tone improved when white noise was added in the background.
Compared to the quiet environment, the noise facilitated the auditory perception.
Research group data show that white noise significantly inhibits nerve cell activity in the auditory cortex.
Paradoxically, this suppression of neuronal excitement led to a more accurate perception of pure tones.
"We found that there was less overlap between neuronal populations during two separate representations of tone," explained Professor Tania Barkat. "As a result, the overall decrease in neuronal activity produced a clearer representation of the tone."
To confirm that the auditory cortex, rather than any other area of the brain, is responsible for altering sound perception, the researchers used a light-controlled technique called optogenetics.
Their findings could be used to improve auditory perception in situations where the sounds are difficult to distinguish.
According to Barkat, it can be understood that cochlear implants can be stimulated with an effect similar to white noise in order to improve the frequency resolution and thus the hearing result of their users.
(This story was published live by an agency with no changes to the text. Only the title has been changed.)
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