How is high-level auditory information about our environment organized? There is a strong theoretical basis for connecting auditory perception with events rather than objects. It is a "tree falling in the forest" that is heard, not just the tree. Sound is generated by the physical interactions of objects, surfaces, and substances – in other words, events. The sound waveform contains a great deal of potential information about its sources properties. However, no single acoustic feature specifies a particular object or action. Information about sound sources is complex and time-varying, and it is not known to what degree or in what form it is exploited by human listeners. My research examines the human ability to understand what events are happening in the environment through sound. Perceptual experiments address whether there is an auditory organization of events that can be used to predict psychological phenomena such as prototypes or exaggerations, and whether audition plays a significant role in the perception of multi-modal events. This basic research, funded by the National Science Foundation, will relate psychological performance to acoustic properties and high-level auditory information. The results of this research may have the potential to enhance processing for hearing aids and improve auditory displays, both for virtual reality and for visually impaired computer users. I believe that immersive and interactive human/machine interfaces of the future will need to make advances in auditory interfaces as well as addressing the interaction between audition and vision.
We tested various hearing aid algorithms to reduce noise and enhance speech intelligibility. This research was funded by the Rhode Island Research Alliance's Science and Technology Advisory Council. We tested combinations of pre-processing strategies to determine which ones provide the most benefit to users. Both normal-hearing and hearing-impaired listeners tried to understand speech under quiet and noisy conditions in the laboratory. The goal was to influence development of future hearing aids.