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The effects of auditory training on human communication skills: behavior and physiology

Final Report Summary - AUDITORY LEARNING (The effects of auditory training on human communication skills: behavior and physiology)

Goals, major outcomes and conclusions
Whether intensive practice can be used to boost communication skills in the general population (e.g. when learning a new language) as well as in populations with impaired communication skills (e.g. individuals with language impairments) is subject to debate. Specifically, although intensive training often yields learning of the trained tasks and materials, generalization to untrained, ‘real-life’, conditions is often limited. Against this background, our major goal was to compare the effects of different training regimens (‘ecological’ training, with real-life tasks and materials ; ‘speech’ training with real sentences with a non-ecological task; basic auditory training with non-verbal stimuli) on the generalization of learning to untrained conditions. Across regimens the greatest amount of learning was always observed on the trained conditions. Both ‘ecological’ and ‘speech’ training yielded similar patterns of generalization to untrained materials. Basic auditory training resulted in the least amount of generalization to untrained materials.

We conclude that ‘ecological’ or ‘speech’ training might be more beneficial than basic auditory training in rehabilitation and education settings. The findings leading to this conclusion are presented in detail in two manuscripts (1) Song J., Skoe E., Banai K. & Kraus N. (2012) Training to improve hearing speech in noise: biological mechanisms. Cerebral Cortex. 22(5): 1180-1190; (2) Banai K. & Lavner Y. (2012). Perceptual learning of time-compressed speech: More than rapid adaptation. PLoS One. 7(10): e47099. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0047099.

The reasons for the rather limited amounts of generalization following basic auditory training are discussed in a review (Banai K. & Amitay S. (2012). Stimulus uncertainty in auditory perceptual learning. Vision Research. 61:83-88).

Further factors associated with learning and generalization (e.g. the effects of musical experience; sensitivity to repetitions; age) were also published in 5 additional peer-reviewed publications.

Potential socio-economic impact
The outcomes of this study are relevant to two large populations -- persons with age-related hearing loss (the number of which increases with the aging of the population in Europe and elsewhere), and adults learning a novel-language (e.g. immigrants). Although further studies are required to reveal the optimal training conditions, our findings suggest that computerized training might result in improved speech perception under non-ideal listening conditions, and therefore could be considered to supplement more common learning and rehabilitation strategies.

Contact details
Dr. Karen Banai, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, University of Haifa, Israel. Email: kbanai@research.haifa.ac.il