Topic 1.4 - Auditory-somatosensory cross-modal plasticity (ESR 4)

Image © Anis Ghed

The topic Auditory-somatosensory cross-modal plasticity will be hosted at OTIC and supervised by Hamish Innes-Brown and Soeren Kamaric-Riis.

For cochlear implant (CI) users, it is well established that even moderate noise or acoustic complex scenes with multiple talkers can severely degrade speech understanding as well as substantially increase required listening effort. When children with CI are integrated in schools for children with NH, the negative effect of noise on learning as well as on social integration is a serious concern. Recent evidence suggest that adding a wristband vibrotactile input modality carrying key acoustic information can substantially improve speech understanding in noise as well as appreciation of acoustically complex signals like music. The objective of this ESR is to investigate impact of cross-modal plasticity across somatosensory and auditory brain areas on listening performance in complex acoustic scenes (speech in noise, multi-talker, music) as well as on learning and language development for children using CI. In the study, a group of children fitted with CI will be equipped with a take-home bodyworn (e.g. wristband) vibrotactile device delivering key acoustic cues. During and after a training period of up to three months this group will be evaluated against a control group of children with CI (without vibrotactile input). A vibro-tactile input device design from University of Southampton is available for the project. Speech outcome and music appreciation measures will be employed along with fNIRS brain imaging techniques for studying cross-modal plasticity across auditory and somatosensory areas before and after the training period. Furthermore, brain networks related to language processing and listening effort will be studied with fNIRS in the two groups. For impact on learning speed of vibrotactile input, the paradigm proposed by Assoc. Prof. Andrea Pittmann, Arizona State University may be employed.

The aim of this topic is to understand the effect of the (wearable) vibro-tactile input modality on (1) cross-modal plasticity across somatosensory and auditory brain regions, (2) language processing brain networks, (3) learning speed and (4) audiological performance and listening effort in ecological, complex acoustic scenes representative of a school class setting.

Part of this project will take place at the Medizinische Hochschule Hannover for the ESR to be enrolled for the PhD. It will also enable the ESR to interface and exchange with ESR3 on findings in an animal model on cross-modal plasticity across auditory and somatosensory areas. Also, data collection on CI users will take place mainly at MHH.

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