Attention Mechanisms Contributing to Auditory Spatial Processing.

2023 Seed Grant
Howard Gritton, Ph.D.
University of Illinois

Our world is composed of a rich mixture of sounds. We often process sounds including speech in the presence of many other competing auditory stimuli (e.g., voices in a crowded room, music, etc.). The problem of understanding speech in these difficult conditions is referred to as the “cocktail party problem” (CPP) and how our nervous system solves this problem remains a mystery. Like humans, many animals, including other mammals, birds, and frogs, are very adept at tracking a specific sound source in a mixture of complex sounds. However, this ability declines as we age, and those with disorders that include impairments in attentional processing such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD), have great difficulty following speech in complex auditory environments. The research Dr. Gritton proposes will apply a combination of state-of-the-art systems and computational approaches to identify how attention alters neural activity to enhance attended sources and suppress neural activity to unattended sources at the level of the mammalian cortex. Results from this study offer the promise to identify circuit properties by which attention contributes to auditory stream segregation but the advancements made here have broad translational implications for our understanding of recurring circuit disruptions that underlie the basis of attentional disorders more generally.

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