Hearing loss comes in many different forms and can have a wide range of impacts on communication and daily activities. Imagine yourself at a cocktail party in a crowded room with numerous people competing to be heard amongst several simultaneous conversations. It can become very easy for one conversation to spill into another, making it difficult to discern similar words and sounds. In some cases, it’s not actually about distinguishing between sounds but different sounds blending together making the speech incomprehensible. This condition is often referred to as binaural pitch fusion.
What is Binaural Pitch Fusion?
Sometimes referred to as binaural integration, binaural pitch fusion involves different sounds and auditory information being received binaurally, or to each ear. This technique is crucial for understanding speech and sounds coming from the surrounding environment as quite often different sounds are being picked up by each ear. Another technique call sound segregation is then used to differentiate and identify one sound from another to establish a comprehensible message to the brain. The cocktail party effect can compromise these abilities, making it difficult to discern between certain sounds.
How does the cocktail party effect impact hearing loss?
People with hearing loss may struggle to fuse the different sounds coming into both ears which can result in sounds being blended together and the end message being indecipherable. Even people with normal hearing can be affected by the cocktail party effect as they are able to separate the sounds from multiple speakers, but still by the specific message coming from each voice.
Studies done on this phenomenon have shown that people with hearing loss are more deeply impacted by the cocktail party effect and experience an abnormal fusion of sounds coming into both ears and had more difficulty discerning between different voice pitches. This means that noisy environments with multiple people talking at once can be overwhelming and stressful for individuals with hearing loss.
Hearing Aids to Reduce the Impact of the Cocktail Party Effect
Hearing aids can be extremely useful for people that struggle in situations with multiple speakers. It is often that hearing aids are only for amplifying sounds and therefore are only helpful for improving the ability to hear quiet sounds. However, hearing aid volume works differently than how the volume works on your everyday device. Many people with hearing loss have trouble with soft and high-frequency sounds. Hearing aids can be used to target those specific sounds for easier processing and recognition.
Hearing aid technology also allows for users to choose different settings and filters. One of these filters is background noise reduction for easier communication in loud areas. A process called digital signal processing is used to identify background noise and subsequently reduce its volume. Directional microphones can also be used to direct focus on a particular subject. People with hearing loss can benefit greatly from the assistance of hearing aids in settings with multiple speakers vying to be heard.