NSERC/Sonova IRC in Auditory Cognitive Neuroscience
Industrial Research Chairs program
Senior Chairholder since 2019
The mechanics of hearing and sensorineural hearing loss are increasingly well understood. In addition, methods for diagnosing and treating sensorineural hearing loss have advanced such that hearing instruments can in some cases be fitted by the end user. These advancements set the stage for a new era of over-the-counter hearing aids and hearables that are expected to become mainstream in the not-so-distant future. However, questions abound regarding the role of cognition in the successful use of these technologies. This Industrial Research Chair (IRC) provides an exciting platform to address these questions.
The IRC builds upon a long-standing fruitful partnership between Dr. Russo and the industrial partner, Sonova. Dr. Russo will work closely with Sonova research teams located in Zurich, Mississauga and Kitchener. The IRC research program will use behavioural methods and functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to model (a) listening effort in challenging environments and (b) speech emotion recognition. To increase the industrial applicability of the models that are developed, they will be tested with a wide range of users, encompassing diversity in age, hearing ability and experience with hearing instruments. In the final phase of research, a subset of the models that have been developed will be scaled to allow for optimal integration with Sonova’s research and development timelines and product cycles.
Sonova believes that its current and future hearing instruments can benefit immensely from a cognitive neuroscience approach to research, focusing on the functional outcomes that are experienced by users of hearing instruments. The most obvious functional outcome is restoring the audibility of the signal, but other outcomes are also believed to be relevant for hearing instrument satisfaction and use. These historically neglected but important functional outcomes include the ability to understand conversation or identify emotion in a speaker’s voice without excessive reliance on cognition, especially in challenging environments (e.g., driving on a noisy road in low light).
This IRC program of research is expected to generate fundamental knowledge regarding how to assess the neural processes involved in listening to speech in challenging environments and in the identification of speech emotion. The program is also expected to generate methodological innovations that will eventually be used by industry to optimize the effectiveness of hearing instruments. These insights and methods will improve hearing instruments for the benefit of all Canadians, but they hold particular relevance for our rapidly aging population. The IRC program of research represents a tangible and sustainable increase in hearing science research capacity, excellence and intensity in Canada.