In January, Pacific’s Department of Audiology hosted the Experts in Audiology Research (E.A.R.) Seminar. Doctor of audiology (AuD) students and guests from academia and industry heard from world-renowned cochlear implant expert, Monita Chatterjee, PhD, director of the Auditory Prostheses and Perception Laboratory at Boys Town National Research Hospital in Nebraska. Her presentation, “The Music in Speech: Consequences of Hearing Loss and Cochlear Implantation,” delved into the ways the nuances of hearing and speech impact communication.
“Typically, we think of speech mainly with respect to intelligibility,” said Jayaganesh Swaminathan, PhD, research associate and adjunct faculty member at Pacific. “Dr. Chatterjee challenged us to think about other aspects of speech communication that are equally important, such as emotional prosody and pitch.” Emotional prosody is the various non-verbal aspects of language that allow one to convey or understand emotion, as conveyed through an individual’s tone of voice. Equally important are suprasegmental cues, the stress and intonation added to words or phrases. “For patients with profound hearing loss, the cochlear implant processor can severely distort the acoustics related to suprasegmental cues, which can in turn severely compromise their speech communication abilities,” Dr. Swaminathan said.
The seminar also featured an expert panel on cochlear implants led by Matthew Fitzgerald, PhD, chief of audiology at Stanford Health Care, Melanie Gilbert, AuD, research audiologist at University of California, San Francisco and adjunct faculty member at Pacific, Gabriella Musacchia, PhD, assistant professor of audiology at Pacific and Dr. Swaminathan.
Building on Dr. Chatterjee’s presentation, the panel discussed the effects of aging and hearing loss on emotion perception and the application of research to current clinical practice. “We also explored futuristic ideas with respect to improving cochlear-implant technology and how we may use music as a vehicle to improve speech communication in these listeners,” Dr. Swaminathan said.
The event also included a showcase of research posters by Pacific AuD students and networking opportunities. The seminar underscored the importance of collaboration within and outside the field of audiology. The audience included professionals with various academic backgrounds including audiology, engineering, physics and neuroscience. “Our research is highly interdisciplinary in nature,” Dr. Swaminathan said. “By collaborating with other universities and industries, we are able to gain invaluable insight into the research topics.”
By Anne Marie H. Bergthold