Learning Social Cues from Language: The Development of Gender Perception from Speech in Hearing and Deaf Children

Santiago Barreda-Castanon is an assistant professor of linguistics. His project, which explores the perceptual abilities of listeners with cochlear implants, was awarded an ISS Individual Research Grant in 2015. He provided this update in March 2016.

What motivated you to pursue this project?

My research has previously focused on how listeners with normal hearing use acoustic cues to identify what kind of person is speaking (i.e., speaker gender, age, size) from speech cues. Listeners with cochlear implants have difficulty assessing apparent speaker characteristics because the sound they hear is substantially less rich in information than the sound available to listeners with normal hearing. As a result, many times listeners with cochlear implants have difficulty identifying even the sex of a speaker, an ability that listeners with normal hearing take for granted.

In the past, I have worked on training methods to teach listeners with normal hearing to better use the acoustic information in speech sounds. I was motivated to find out if any of these training methods could be used to improve the perceptual abilities of listeners with cochlear implants. In particular, I wanted to see if the training method could specifically help children by teaching them how to use this information while they are still learning to use the implant in general, since people get better with age and experience with the device.

How has it progressed since you received an ISS Individual Research Grant?

Since receiving the ISS grant, I have secured the equipment I needed, and started to collaborate with other researchers, including a audiologist from the Netherlands. We are planning on using a cochlear implant simulator to pilot several adult listeners with normal hearing this coming quarter.

What is the next step?

Depending on the results from the pilot experiments with adults with normal hearing, the next step is to begin testing the method on children with normal hearing. This is necessary to make sure that we see roughly the same results for adults and children, and to make sure the training method and duration are appropriate for use with children. Once that is complete, assuming the training proves to be effective in general and appropriate for children, we plan to use the training method with children and adults with cochlear implants.

Learn more about Santiago Barreda-Castanon at his faculty webpage.