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Speech Comprehension Found to Depend on Tactile Cues

Study suggests cues allow people to distinguish aspirated sounds involving puffs of air

MONDAY, Nov. 30 (HealthDay News) -- Understanding speech depends on tactile as well as visual cues in allowing people to distinguish between aspirated and unaspirated sounds such as "p" and "d," according to a study in the Nov. 26 issue of Nature.

To determine the importance of tactile stimulation in interpreting certain aspirated sounds such as the English "p" or "t," Bryan Gick, Ph.D., and Donald Derrick from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, had volunteers listen to "pa," "ba," "ta," and "da" either alone or accompanied by inaudible air puffs to the neck or the hand.

The researchers found that the presence of an air puff in either location increased the likelihood that a sound would be heard as aspirated, enhancing correct identification of the aspirated "pa" or "ta," while interfering with the correct identification of the unaspirated "ba" and "da." In other words, the authors note that volunteers would mishear a "b" as a "p" because syllables heard simultaneously with air puffs were likely to be heard as aspirated.

"These results demonstrate that perceivers integrate event-relevant tactile information in auditory perception in much the same way as they do visual information," Gick and Derrick conclude. "As these findings describe perceptual enhancement during passive perception, they imply possible future directions in audio and telecommunication applications and aids for the hearing impaired."

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