What have we discovered?

We have shown that the developing brain is extremely versatile when it adapts to hearing loss:

1. The developing brain (primary auditory cortex) uses two different strategies for adapting to hearing loss [1,2]. This is helpful because each of these strategies is useful for locating a distinct set of sounds. Previously, it was thought that the brain was only able to use one adaptive strategy.

2. Adapting to hearing loss does not necessarily impair your ability to use normal hearing. Instead the developing brain can learn to maintain accurate perception despite switching back and forth between hearing loss and normal hearing [1], which can be caused by ‘glue ear’. Conceptually, this may be similar to bilingual children who learn to switch back and forth between different languages.

We have also shown that, with appropriate training, some of this flexibility is retained in adulthood [3]. This has implications for how we should help children and adults with hearing problems. Since some of these issues are impossible to study experimentally in humans, we have published a number of studies confirming that ferrets are the most appropriate species for studying the learning processes underlying spatial hearing [4,5,6].

Click here for a recent review article that places my research within a broader context.

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