Small puffs of air were delivered through vinyl tubing to the skin and neck of 66 volunteers. When the unaspirated sounds "ba" and "da" were paired with a puff of air (mimicking an aspirated sound), the participants thought the sounds were actually "pa" and "ta."
"The nature of tactile stimulation can influence the actual part of speech you can perceive," said Robert Frisina Jr., associate chair of otolaryngology at the University of Rochester Medical Center, in Rochester, N.Y. "People with hearing impairments could have significant improvement when they're provided with tactile cues," he noted.
"The findings are pretty novel and provocative. You wouldn't expect that kind of [difference] from a little puff of air," Frisina added. "The areas of the brain for touch and for hearing are connected. Neurologically, it does make sense."
"Individuals are really picking up on certain clues that we may not necessarily be aware of," said Dr. Thomas Brammeier, director of the Hearing and Balance Center at Scott & White in Temple, Texas.
The University of California Santa Cruz has more on how hearing works.
SOURCES: Bryan Gick, associate professor, linguistics, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, and scientist, Haskins Laboratory, Yale University, New Haven, Conn.; Robert Frisina Jr., Ph.D., associate chair, otolaryngology, and professor, otolaryngology, neurobiology and anatomy and biomedical engineering, University of Rochester Medical Center, New York; Thomas Brammeier, M.D., assistant professor, surgery, Texas
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