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Device may allow the deaf to "hear through their fingertips"

Device may allow the deaf to "...
A diagram of the Vibrating Auditory Stimulator, which required no training to use
A diagram of the Vibrating Auditory Stimulator, which required no training to use
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A diagram of the Vibrating Auditory Stimulator, which required no training to use
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A diagram of the Vibrating Auditory Stimulator, which required no training to use

Amongst the challenges faced by the deaf is what's known as the "cocktail party effect," in which they have difficulty discerning one speaker's voice from others in crowded, noisy environments. A new device could help, however – by buzzing two of their fingers.

Led by The Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Dr. Amir Amedi, an international research team started with 12 test subjects (both male and female), aged an average of 29 years old. All of them spoke English, although not as their first language, and none of them had any reported hearing problems.

The volunteers were tasked with listening to 25 groups of 10 short, simple sentences, all of which were spoken in English in a male voice. Distracting, background-conversation-like noise was added to the audio.

When the test subjects initially listened to the sentences using headphones only, they found it quite difficult to understand what the speaker was saying. Their understanding improved considerably, however, when they listened while also holding their index and middle fingers against an inexpensive tactile feedback device.

Known as a Vibrating Auditory Stimulator, that device converted low-frequency speech audio signals into vibrations. The scientists believe that it helped the participants by allowing them to use two of their senses – hearing and touch – to interpret what was being said. All told, it produced a 6-decibel improvement in perceived loudness. For reference, 10 db represents a doubling of loudness.

"The ability to 'hear through one's fingers' can significantly help hearing," says Dr. Tomasz Wolak of Poland's World Hearing Center, co-author of a paper on the study. "Our approach suggests that multisensory stimulations providing the same type of information (in this case spoken language conveyed through touch in addition to hearing) should be processed in the same brain region (in this case spoken language centers), ultimately then predicting that multisensory stimulations (both sounds and touch) should enhance perception."

The scientists are now working on improving the technology, with the ultimate goal of reaching the 10-db improvement mark. Their paper was recently published in the journal Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience.

Source: IOS Press

1 comment
noteugene
Well, you can certainly tell that the author is completly void of understanding the concept of deafness. Hard of hearing is not to be mistaken for deafness. Hearing anything, confusing or not, is not an indication of deafness but confusion. This inability or hardship to differiniate between different sounds or sources therein is a discerning problem, not a deafness problem. That being said, as one who has had to use their eyes to hear for the last 40 yrs, being enabled to use an additional method or source is welcomed news indeed. I do the same now sometimes when I put my finger tips on someones throat while they are speaking. But this authors idea of me all of a sudden being able to hear anything across a crowded room by touching an object seems far fetched indeed. Deaf is deaf. Color me skeptical.