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Saturday, 28 November 2009 18:54

Skin 'hears' with puffs of air

According to a Canadian study, the skin helps the ears to hear better when certain words produce puffs of air that impinge on the listener’s skin. Such research can help to produce better communication devices for the hearing impaired.

According to the article “Aero-tactile integration in speech perception” within the journal Nature (Nature 462, 502-504 (26 November 2009), doi:10.1038/nature08572), the skin senses particular sounds coming out of people’s mouths (like syllables such as “ta” and “pa”) because they produce tiny, inaudible puffs of air.

Its authors are Donald Derrick, of the Department of Linguistics, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada; and Bryan Gick, of the University of British Columbia and, also, from Haskins Laboratories, New Haven, Connecticut, U.S.A.

Derrick and Gick studied twenty-two people with respect to how their speaking impacts liseners.

Specifically, they listened to audio recordings in an environment of background noise.

The researchers stated that syllables such as “da” and “ba” are pronounced without producing a puff of air from the speaker.

However when these syllables are pronounced and a puff of air is artificially directed toward the skin in unison with these syllables (with the use of a air compressor by the researchers), then the listener often perceives the syllable as being “ta” and “pa”.

Page two continues.

The authors stated within the abstract of their paper, “Drawing on the observation that some speech sounds produce tiny bursts of aspiration (such as English 'p'), we applied slight, inaudible air puffs on participants' skin at one of two locations: the right hand or the neck.”

They add, “Syllables heard simultaneously with cutaneous air puffs were more likely to be heard as aspirated (for example, causing participants to mishear 'b' as 'p')."

"These results demonstrate that perceivers integrate event-relevant tactile information in auditory perception in much the same way as they do visual information.”

The 11-25-09 WebMD article “Can You 'Hear' Through the Skin” states that the finding “… is important, because it could prove useful in the future development of audio and telecommunication aids for the hearing impaired.”

Read more about the study at the NPR article "Sense Of Touch Can Help Hearing, Study Says."

Dr. Gick states with the NPR article, "From my point of view, we're whole-body perceiving machines."

"We just take all of the information that comes at us in our environment and merge it into a percept of something that happened in the world."

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