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Speaking and listening in a noisy world


Our modern world is full of noise: from machinery, transport, radio & television, MP3 players, and other people talking.

This exhibit shows how background noises of all types affect our ability to understand speech, and makes it harder for us to think about and remember things. Other factors make understanding speech in noise even more difficult; for example if we have a hearing impairment, or when we try to function in a language that is not our mother tongue. People even adapt their own speech to make it easier for others to understand. Visitors can learn about all this, including some technologies that can help us to combat the effects of noise.

How does it work?

Recent work in the neuroscience of hearing gives us a better understanding of how speech signals are processed in the brain. New techniques for measuring brain activity also help to uncover how the brain extracts information from sound signals, and also how noise makes that task harder.

Studies of people speaking to one another in difficult listening conditions have shown how talkers adapt their speech to maintain intelligibility when the sound quality is reduced, and what makes one kind of background sound more disruptive than another. Models of speech intelligibility and speech quality are being developed to measure and predict the impact of noise on the cognitive effort needed to communicate. Speech signal processing technology is being applied to noisy speech in the hope of improving its intelligibility or quality.

See all exhibits from 2011

These short videos introduce some of the work presenteded by this exhibit.