Category: Health Magazine, Winter 2024

Title:Transforming speech into tactile vibrations

multicolored audio spike waves
Photo: iStock

Researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center, in collaboration with George Washington University, leveraged their understanding of auditory speech processing in the brain to enable volunteers to perceive speech through the sense of touch. This may aid in the design of novel sensory substitution devices—swapping sound for touch, for example—for hearing-impaired people.

“In the past few years, our understanding of how the brain processes information from different senses has expanded greatly as we are starting to understand how brain networks are connected across different sensory pathways, such as vision, hearing and touch,” says Maximilian Riesenhuber, professor in the Department of Neuroscience at Georgetown University Medical Center and senior author of the study that appeared in the Journal of Neuroscience last May.

“For instance, previous work has shown that Braille words can activate the visual brain areas of blind individuals. This suggests that input from the touch system activates their visual system. Similar connections exist in individuals without sensory impairments, such as those between the hearing and touch system. These connections offer the intriguing possibility that it might be possible to process speech through the sense of touch by coming up with a way to effectively couple information from the sense of touch into the auditory speech system.”

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