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The Auditory Computation & Neurophysiology Lab investigates the neural mechanisms of perceptual and cognitive functions that support auditory experience. We are interested in how does the auditory system integrate basic sound features, such as frequency, intensity, and location, to establish sound source perception. We investigate in what ways other sensory systems can influence auditory perception to guide decision-making in everyday contexts (e.g., Who is saying what and from where?) This knowledge is essential to reveal the strategy and capacity of the auditory system for effective communication in multi-talker and multi-sensory environments. Impairment of this ability is the most noticeable outcome of hearing loss. Understanding the neural mechanisms of auditory perception will help us identify the potential sources of perceptual impairment.
Key words: Auditory Perception; Multisensory; Neurophysiology; Neural modeling; Hearing impairment
Sounds are waves of fluctuating air pressure caused by vibrating objects. While the properties of a sound can be described by physics (i.e., amplitude and frequency of a waveform), sound is generally perceived not as the pressure wave that it physically is, but as an internal estimate of what made the sound (e.g., a violin or high-pitched voice). This physics to perception transformation is attributed to the auditory functions of the brain. Psychoacoustics investigates the subjective experience (psych) of the physical attributes of sounds (acoustics). The tasks used in psychoacoustic experiments often focus on detection and discrimination among multiple acoustic events. In linking internal processes with physical acoustic environments, psychophysical performance provides insights into how the human brain interprets and uses sound information in everyday experience and decision-making.
When sounds reach at our ears, the vibrating features of sound energy are translated by the auditory system into electrical activities of neurons. These neuronal activities can be collected using microelectrodes and microprobes, which are small enough to allow eavesdropping responses of single neurons to sounds. The binary sequences of neuronal spiking activities (1 = spike; 0 = no spike) and their ensemble spatial and temporal patterns are believed to form the neural basis of auditory perception.
Neural modeling investigates the behaviors of neurons and the dynamic interactions among a group of neurons using tractable, numerical simulation methods. Biological neural models emphasize the role of intrinsic properties of a neuron and neural circuit structures in understanding function. By imitating the behaviors of a biological system, neural models provide insights about the biophysical mechanisms of perception and action.
Communication sounds, including animal vocalizations and human speech, provide a vital basis for human/animal social life, including creating and maintaining bonds, expressing emotions, attracting mates, and alerting others of danger. Comparative analyses of animal vocal behaviors help delineate the complexity of the interplay of acoustic, ecological, and social factors during vocal communication. This knowledge is important for our understandings of the neural basis for the sound perception aspect of communication at both individual and group levels.