Facebook pixel
Go to home page

Individual Differences in Hearing Ability Modulates the Neural Bases for Speech Comprehension

A blue sound wave against a black background; there is a dark blue rendition of an ear receiving the sound wave.

Cognition and Behavior

Yune S. Lee, Arthur Wingfield, Nam-Eun Min, Ethan Kotloff, Murray Grossman and Jonathan E. Peelle

Read full research article


Everyone has subtle differences in their hearing acuity. This study examines how subtle, clinically normal differences affect the brain systems involved in speech processing. Participants with normal hearing completed a task involving listening to spoken sentences concurrent with receiving functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Imaging revealed individuals who had poorer hearing (although still within normal limits) demonstrated greater activation of their attention networks, in addition to the normal activation of the auditory networks, when successfully understanding the spoken sentences. This study suggests that even slight variations in hearing acuity impact the brain systems required to accurately understand speech, requiring greater coordination of auditory and attention networks to meet the demands of the auditory stimuli. This study has been featured in several news and media articles including US News & World Report.

Figure 2A displays increased activity (fMRI) in language regions of the brain when listening to sentences versus noise, followed by the correct behavioral response in the experimental task.

Share this article

Yune S. Lee, PhD

Assistant Professor, School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences Director of Speech, Language, and Music (SLAM) Laboratory

Related Information

Music: A Brain Enhancer?

Hear Dr. Yune Lee talk about his creative journey and discuss some of his findings on the ways music may affect our brains.

Rhythm and Syntax Processing in School-Age Children

This study observes children with good rhythm skills understanding grammatically complex sentences better than children with poor rhythm skills.