This is a PhD studentship being carried out by Mathilde de Kerangal in the laboratory of Dr Maria Chait at the University College London Ear Institute. Mathilde started her work in October 2015 and will finish in September 2018.
You're out for a walk with a friend. She's trying to tell you something, at the same time as cars are rushing by, police sirens are blaring and a couple of dogs are barking...
These multiple sounds enter your ear as one complicated, combined sound wave. To make sense of this wave, you have to separate it into its different components, recognise the different objects and their locations, and react accordingly.
The ability to detect abrupt changes in sound (known as 'change detection') within your surroundings is crucial to staying safe and being alerted to potential dangers.
But, despite its important implications, at the moment, people's change-detection ability is not measured by hearing tests. We think this means that more-advanced hearing aid features are not being used, even where they might be of benefit.
Mathilde aims to develop a model that audiologists can use to evaluate people's sensitivity to changes in complex, multi-object soundscapes – similar to those they encounter every day – so that they can make a better assessment of the benefits someone will gain from their hearing aids.
The testing procedures that Mathilde is developing will be useful to audiologists, and should lead to further investigations into the consequences of different forms of hearing loss. We also hope that her work will contribute directly to better hearing aid design, by identifying the properties of sound the brain uses when it detects abrupt changes in sound, and the degree to which these are captured by present-day hearing aid technology.