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‘Loud Noise’ Research may help in Development of Prosthetics for Eldery

Apparently ‘Noise’ is not always a bad thing!! Researchers from the University of British Columbia have shown that // noise can at times help, rather than hinder, people's ability to sense things.

It is not unusual to have an aversion for noise unless you are one of the modern age teenagers! The noise in India during Diwali can be deafening and there are now laws that allows only so much noise that be safely created. Researchers now think noise can affect one’s ability not only to hear, but also to see and feel.

Researcher Lawrence M. Ward said that "although counterintuitive ... noise can actually help us to see, hear or feel weak signals that would otherwise be imperceptible."

The researchers tested the effects of tactile noise on touch sensation by applying weak vibrations to the soles of people's feet. By themselves the vibrations were undetectable, or below-threshold, to the participants. But when the researchers added random vibrations — noise, that is — people were able to detect the frequency of the weak, original vibrations. However, the noise had to be "just the right amount to raise it above a sensory threshold so it can be perceived. Too little noise isn't enough, and too much noise just hides the signal,"

Ward said:"This is especially important for people whose sensory thresholds have been elevated, such as the elderly or people who have sustained damage to their visual, auditory or touch systems through accident or disease. Adding noise to signals that are below such elevated thresholds might make the signals perceptible again."

The current research could be used in designing prosthetics to help the elderly avoid the painful falls that too often lead to immobility or death. The authors note that, "it has already been shown that facilitation of other types of foot sensation can be helpful in the elderly by improving the effectiveness of stabilizing reactions and by improving balance control wh ile standing”.

The study reported in the April 2005 issue of Psychological Science by Cari Wells, Lawrence M. Ward, Romeo Chua, and J. Timothy Inglis is entitled "Touch Noise Increases Vibrotactile Sensitivity in Old and Young,".


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