BrainsCAN supports research and researchers with internally and externally funded projects. It aims to promote curiosity-driven research and high-impact projects in the area of cognitive neuroscience.
These Research Summaries describe research projects that received support from BrainsCAN, the findings that resulted in each case and what might happen next.
Visit the BrainsCAN website for additional information.
Speech-evoked brain activity is more robust to competing speech when it is spoken by someone familiar
BrainsCAN , Western University and Ingrid Johnsrude
The representation of spoken-sentence information in specific regions of the brain is more resistant to interference by competing speech if the target talker is familiar. The posterior temporal cortex represents information about target speech more robustly in the presence of competing speech when the target talker is a friend or partner. We have also shown that the relative robustness of the representations for a familiar, compared to an unfamiliar, voice aligns with the intelligibility benefit that the listener gains from that familiar voice.
Can training improve speech intelligibility and voice recognition?
We found that people learn voices very rapidly. We are able to recognize a new voice (and distinguish it from other voices) accurately after as little as 10 minutes of training. While recognition of a voice seems to plateau quite quickly (our recognition doesn't improve with more training), intelligibility does keep improving as training continues up to one hour. We think the benefits of voice familiarity (such as improved intelligibility in everyday settings, helping people with hearing loss or jobs in noisy environments) can be achieved through deliberate training.
Preventing noise-induced hearing loss with a novel pharmaceutical
BrainsCAN, Western University; Brian Allman; Paul Walton; Shawn Whitehead; Patti Kiser; Brian Shilton; and Sarah Hayes
A targeted catalase, packaged and delivered via exosomes intranasally, provides protection for cochlear cells against oxidative stress, the kind of stress that results from loud noise exposure. It is able to cross the blood-brain barrier and does not result in negative outcomes elsewhere in the body.
Aging is associated with an over-sensitivity of brain responses to sounds
BrainsCAN, Western University; Björn Herrmann; Burkhard Maess; and Ingrid S. Johnsrude
Aging and hearing loss leads to increased neural responses to sounds in the auditory cortex compared to younger people. Enhanced neural activity to sound may be a physiological mechanism underlying the difficulty that older adults have with ignoring irrelevant sound information.
Familiar voices are more Intelligible, even if they are not recognized as familiar
BrainsCAN, Western University; Emma Holmes; Ysabel Domingo; and Ingrid Johnsrude
This research has demonstrated that it’s easier to understand someone who is familiar to us (compared to someone unfamiliar) even if we can’t recognize them from their voice. As listeners, we focus on certain parts of speech sounds for specific purposes. For example, there may be some situations in which you can understand words spoken by your mother very well, better than you could understand a stranger in the same situation, even if you can’t tell that it’s your mother speaking.
The prefrontal cortex and obesity: a health neuroscience perspective
BrainsCAN, Western University; Cassandra J. Lowe; Amy C. Reichelt; and Peter A. Hall
The level of activity within an individual’s prefrontal cortex seems to be critical to dietary self-control and the likelihood of overconsumption and obesity. Lower activity can make individuals more vulnerable to the appeal of calorie-rich foods. Sustained overconsumption and obesity can cause changes in the prefrontal cortex that further discourage dietary self-regulation, creating a reciprocal relationship that reinforces the poor dietary choices and encourages overconsumption.
Persistent post-concussion brain changes in adolescent hockey players
BrainsCAN, Western University; Kathryn Y. Manning; Amy Schranz; Robert Bartha; Gregory A. Dekaban; Christy Barreira; Arthur Brown; Lisa Fischer; Kevin Asem; Timothy J. Doherty; Douglas D. Fraser; Jeff Holmes; and Ravi S. Menon
Changes continue to occur in a concussed brain even after standard clinical tests have returned to normal. Damage in the very long fibre tracks in the brain of concussed players can be detected up to three months after the concussion and after the individuals have been approved for return to athletics. It is also possible to detect ‘hyper-connectivity’ in the brain, suggesting the brain is still trying to compensate for the concussion.
The effects of habits on motor skill learning
BrainsCAN, Western University; Nicola J. Popp; Atsushi Yokoi; Paul Gribble; and Jörn Diedrichsen
Learning new motor skills can involve adopting motor habits that could help or hinder overall performance outcomes. Which habit(s) a participant adopt(s) can be induced early on through instruction. These motor habits can be rigid and persistent during motor skill training and practice but it is also possible to influence or change motor habits through training.