The neuroscience of speech comprehension, aging, & hearing impairment

Although our ears are necessary for us to process sounds, it is in our brains that we make sense of this information. When speech is unclear—for example, due to background noise or hearing impairment—our brains must work harder to understand what has been said. This extra challenge requires more cognitive effort, and can detract from other types of tasks that we want to do. That is, when we listen to a speaker in a noisy restaurant, we may find it more difficult remembering what has been said, because we had to spend so much effort understanding the words in the first place.

Research in our lab is focused primarily on understanding how the brain understands speech, and how this is affected by changes in cognitive and hearing ability. We study speech and auditory processing in adults of all ages and varying levels of hearing. We use a combination of behavioral testing and brain imaging to investigate the cognitive processes involved in speech comprehension and how cognitive demands vary between listeners. Some of the brain imaging techniques we rely on are structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), functional MRI, and high-density diffuse optical tomography (HD-DOT).