Editor's Summary

26 November 2009

Feel the noise


When we listen to human speech we use a combination of the senses: the ears, obviously, and the eyes to see how a speaker's face changes the perception of consonant sounds. Experiments seeking to add the sense of touch to the mix have until now been inconclusive. Many languages use an expulsion of air to change vowel or consonant sounds — in English to distinguish a sound like 'da' from the microphone-popping 'pa'. Bryan Gick and Donald Derrick take that 'puff of air' as the starting point for a study of whether the sense of touch can contribute to what we 'hear'. They applied small, inaudible air puffs to the skin of volunteers who were simultaneously listening to a series of consonant sounds. Air puffs aimed at either the hand or neck made it more likely that aspirated sounds would be heard. So 'b' was misheard as 'p' following an air puff. This work could prove useful in the future development of audio and telecommunication aids for the hearing impaired.

AuthorsAbstractions

doi:10.1038/7272388b

LetterAero-tactile integration in speech perception

Bryan Gick & Donald Derrick

doi:10.1038/nature08572