Erika Skoe, Ph.D.
Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences
Director of Cognitive Science Program
University of Connecticut
Environmental Influences on Hearing: Insights from Wearable Technologies and Blood-based Biomarkers
Real-world auditory environments have rich acoustic properties that fluctuate in frequency and intensity over multiple time scales, from milliseconds to hours to days. In the face of this complexity, how does the auditory system respond to the prevailing sound conditions in different behavioral and social contexts? Detailed investigations of how the auditory system is influenced by environmental sound conditions have so far been undertaken almost exclusively in nonhuman mammals. Whether results generalize to humans is currently poorly understood. This knowledge gap is due partly to the technical challenges of obtaining nuanced acoustic measures of a listener’s long-term auditory environment. Across a series of recent investigations, we have been working to address this gap by using portable, wearable sound recorders to characterize the acoustic characteristics of a person’s everyday soundscape. This ecoacoustic data has helped to reveal surprising sound exposure patterns, dissociate the effects of auditory training and trauma on auditory function, and — when combined with novel blood-based biomarkers — has given new insight into where along the auditory pathway, environment-dependent changes first occur.
Work funded by the American Tinnitus Association, American Academy of Audiology, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health