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Listen and Learn – Statistical Learning and the Adapting Auditory Brain


This project, led by Professor David McAlpine from Macquarie University, and researchers from National Acoustic Laboratories (NAL), explores the link between neural adaptation—a form of learning referred to as statistical learning—and human listening abilities. In particular, focussing on understanding the role of rapid neural adaptation in learning over the short term, and the maintenance of learning over the longer term—meta-adaptation— through the auditory system’s efferent feedback.


The specific aims of this projects are to:

  1. Identify the mechanisms that contribute to listeners’ abilities to learn complex auditory scenes and might underly learning disorders such as dyslexia.
  2. Generates new knowledge of, and methods for exploring, complex sensory and cognitive problems.
  3. Inform the development of new ‘listening’ algorithms to augment hearing technologies, such as hearing aids, cochlear implants and automatic speech processors.
Figure 1: Adaptation of firing rate in lower brain centres to short-term statistics of the (red) environment. Efferent feedback from higher brain centres is essential to meta-adaptation learning the long-term structure of the environment. Blocking efferent feedback abolishes meta-adaptation.

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