Voices carry, reflect off objects and create echoes. Most people rarely hear the echoes; instead they only process the first sound received. For the hard of hearing, though, being in an acoustically challenging room can be a problem. For them, echoes carry. Ever listen to a lecture recorded in a large room?
That most people only process the first-arriving sound is not new. Physicist Joseph Henry, the first secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, noted it in 1849, dubbing it the precedence effect. Since then, classrooms, lecture halls and public-gathering places have been designed to reduce reverberating sounds. And scientists have been trying to identify a precise neural mechanism that shuts down trailing echoes.
In a new paper published in the Aug. 26 issue of the journal Neuron, University of Oregon scientists Brian S. Nelson, a postdoctoral researcher, and Terry T. Takahashi, professor of biology and member of the UO Institute of Neuroscience, suggest that the filtering process is really simple.
When a sound reaching the ear is loud enough, auditory neurons simply accept that sound and ignore subsequent reverberations, Takahashi said. "If someone were to call out your name from behind you, that caller's voice would reach your ears directly from his or her mouth, but those sound waves will also bounce off your computer monitor and arrive at your ears a little later and get mixed in with the direct sound. You aren't even aware of the echo."
Takahashi studies hearing in barn owls with the goal of understanding the fundamentals of sound processing so that future hearing aids, for example, might be developed. In studying how his owls hear, he usually relies on clicking sounds one at a time.
For the new study, funded by the National Institutes of Deafness and Communication Disorders, Nelson said: "We studied longer sounds, comparable in duration to many of the consonant sounds in human speech. As in previo
|Contact: Jim Barlow|
University of Oregon