Understanding Speech in the Face of Competition – Barbara Shinn-Cunningham (Boston University)

July 30, 2008 all-day

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In most social settings, competing speech sounds mask one another, causing us to hear only portions of the signal we are trying to understand. Moreover, multiple signals vie for our attention, causing central interference that can also limit what we perceive. Despite such interruptions and interference, we are incredibly adept at communicating in everyday settings. This talk will review recent studies of how we it is that we manage to selectively attend to and understand speech despite interruptions and perceptual competition from other sources. Evidence supports the idea that selective attention depends on the formation of auditory objects, and that the processes of forming and attending to objects evolve over time. In addition, top-down knowledge is critical for enabling us to fill in missing information in what we are successful at attending in everyday settings. These results have important implications for listeners with hearing impairment or who are aging, who are likely to experience difficulties with selectively attending in complex settings.
Barbara Shinn-Cunningham received her training in electrical engineering at Brown University (Sc.B., 1986) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.S., 1989; Ph.D., 1994). She joined the faculty of Boston University (BU) in 1996, where she is Director of Graduate Studies and Associate Professor of Cognitive and Neural Systems. She also holds faculty appointments in BU Biomedical Engineering, the BU Program in Neuroscience, the Harvard/MIT Health Sciences and Technology Program, the Harvard/MIT Speech and Hearing Program, and the Naval Post-Graduate School. She serves on the Governing Board of the Boston University Center for Neuroscience and the Board of Directors for the CELEST NSF Science of Learning Center, as well as various committees of professional organizations such as the Acoustical Society of America, and the Association for Research in Otolaryngology. She has received research fellowships from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Whitaker Foundation, and the National Security Science and Engineering Faculty Fellows program. Her research includes studies of auditory attention, sound source separation, spatial hearing, and perceptual plasticity.

Center for Language and Speech Processing