Background noises cause brain activity to slow

By Lee Bowman, Scripps Howard News Service

You're at a crouded, noisy holiday party, trying to tune into the conversation of someone standing right next to you, but he or she might as well be speaking another language.

Don't blame your hearing or even the champagne. Researchers at the University of Florida in Gainesville have found that background noises don't just cover up conversation; they may actually scramble language-processing activity in the brain. Their experiements with rats are beginning to unravel why even perfectly loud speech may be hard to understand in a noisy room, a finding that has applications for everything from hearing aids to MP3 players.

"Some people have a tremendously difficult time understanding speech in a noisy environment, and we've all had the experience of having someone tell us something, but we can't tell what it is that they are saying," said Purvis Bedenbaugh, an assistant professor of neuroscience and the person who led the studies. "This research is the first step toward looking at why that would be."

Their research was published earlier this year in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The scientists examined how brain cells in alert rats responded to specific sounds while one of three standardised noises played in the background. The background noises were static, the conversational murmur at a busy restaurant and the disjointed whir of a rewinding tape recorder. They dicovered that brain activity actually decreased in the presence of the background sounds. And the extra noise not only covered up the target sounds, it also inerfered with the brain's ability to process or interpret information about sound, even though the sound was clearly heard by the ears. Industrial safety experts have noted for years that many workers with normal hearing who wear hearing protection are surprised to find that they actually hear speech from their co-workers more clearly because background noise is reduced. Bedenbaugh and his colleagues are now trying to apply their findings to better designs for hearing aids, cochlear implants and ear-phones that might filter out the growing cacophony of everyday life and allow the brain to hear the most important sounds.

Financial compensation after pop-concert

- Darmstaedter Echo

Spectators attending a pop-concert are entitled to financial compensation for pain and suffering if they come away with hearing damage from a performance. This was the decision by the Provincial Court in Koblenz (Germany); file #: 5 U 1324/00. Everybody may rely on the organiser to set the volume of the music to a level that will not lead to health damages, the judges ruled.

The Court granted a woman DM9,000 compensation The plaintiff attended a pop-concert in Trier. There were large amplifiers set up at the left and right side of the stage near which the woman was located. After the performance a doctor diagnosed her with "severe noise-traumatic inner-ear damage and bilateral tinni- tus". That was enough reason for the Koblenz judges to cite the organiser with neglecting his obligation to comply with traffic-securing requirements. The fact that the plaintiff herself had chosen her spot was found to be irrelevant.

Planning for 10th Annual International Noise Awareness Day, Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Almost 10 years ago we heard of a National Noise Awareness Day in the U.S. from the New York League for the Hard of Hearing. On April 24, 1996 the 1st International Noise Awareness Day was held. Since then many things have happened around the globe, and the world has become noisier, in spite of all our efforts to calm things down. This may be due to the fact that the human population continues to grow worldwide, ever more sound-generating gadgets and machines are introduced, used or misused, and addiction to noise of many kinds is proliferating.

To make a noticeable difference, we all shall have to redouble our efforts. Please help us on April 20th to generate more awareness by distributing leaflets, bulletins, writing to newspapers, engaging teachers and classes etc. For available material, please contact us early to allow enough time for mailing things to you. Let us all make a noticeable difference!

Right to Quiet Society Newsletter, Winter 2005
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