A new game programmed by researchers at Massachusetts Eye and Ear, Harvard Medical School and Harvard University can train both mice and humans to improve their ability to discriminate soft sounds in noisy backgrounds, a study published in the journal PNAS suggests.
In the experiment, adult humans and mice with normal hearing were trained on a rudimentary 'audiogame' inspired by sensory foraging behavior that required them to discriminate changes in the loudness of a tone presented in a moderate level of background noise. Their findings suggest new therapeutic options for clinical populations that receive little benefit from conventional sensory rehabilitation strategies.
"Like the children's game 'hot and cold', our game provided instantaneous auditory feedback that allowed our human and mouse subjects to hone in on the location of a hidden target," said senior author Daniel Polley, Ph.D., director of the Mass. Eye and Ear's Amelia Peabody Neural Plasticity Unit of the Eaton-Peabody Laboratories and assistant professor of otology and laryngology at Harvard Medical School. "Over the course of training, both species learned adaptive search strategies that allowed them to more efficiently convert noisy, dynamic audio cues into actionable information for finding the target. To our surprise, human subjects who mastered this simple game over the course of 30 minutes of daily training for one month exhibited a generalized improvement in their ability to understand speech in noisy background conditions. Comparable improvements in the processing of speech in high levels of background noise were not observed for control subjects who heard the sounds of the game but did not actually play the game."