Carnegie Mellon University
July 06, 2022

Experts Study Marine Mammals To Learn About Human Hearing

A CMU researcher leads work on auditory attention

By Caroline Sheedy

Many hearing loss patients have the same complaint: They have trouble following conversations in a noisy space. Carnegie Mellon University’s Barbara Shinn-Cunningham has spent her career conducting research to better understand this problem and how it affects people at cocktail parties, coffee shops and grocery stores.

Now, along with a team of researchers from six universities, Shinn-Cunningham, the director of CMU’s Neuroscience Institute (NI) and the George A. and Helen Dunham Cowan Professor of Auditory Neuroscience, is looking for answers in an unexpected place. The researchers will conduct noninvasive experiments on free-swimming dolphins and sea lions.

Dolphins and sea lions hear differently than humans, but the way their brains make sense of sound could help Shinn-Cunningham and her team better understand the cognitive and neural mechanisms of sound processing. The researchers have received a Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative grant from the Department of Defense to investigate how animals understand and respond appropriately to the cacophony reaching their ears.

Read more about this research