White Noise & How It Improves Human Recognition of Sound

  • January 09, 2020
White Noise & How It Improves Human Recognition of Sound

When people hear different types of tones and frequencies, the brain and memory processes them differently and can sometimes struggle to understand them, but with the addition of white noise, those sounds can be heard much clearer. Professor Dr. Tania Rinaldi Barkat from the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel conducted the study called “Cell Reports” to better understand the perception of different noise tones in tricky sound environments. They discovered that with the addition of white noise behind difficult sounds, the brain’s ability to clearly hear and understand them improved.

The ear contains a cochlea, which takes the vibrations of sound and turns them into electric nerve impulses that are then sent to the brain for interpretation, according to University of Rochester Medical Center. The auditory cortex is the section of the brain that processes sound. In the “Cell Reports” research, they used a mouse to further recognize how white noise affects the brains understanding of certain sounds.

During Barkart’s research, they assumed adding additional background noise to a single tone would make it more difficult for the brain to focus and interpret. Especially since the closer sounds are to the frequency spectrum, the harder it is for the brain to comprehend an individual sound, according to Stefani Kim from The Hearing Review. However, the research found the exact opposite. When adding white noise behind a variety of tones, the brain’s ability to distinguish and understand the sounds improved. Barkart described, “we found that less overlap occurred between populations of neurons during two separate tone representations. As a result, the overall reduction in neuronal activity produced a more distinct tone representation.” Generally, the white noise actually suppressed the electric neuron impulses from the cochlea to the brain, which allowed the brain to concentrate, and initially receive a clearer tone.

All in all, white noise benefits the way the brain processes
sound. This research can benefit hearing aid manufactures and can help people understand
conversations in noisy environments, like in a restaurant or concert. According
to Barkart, this research can also improve cochlear implants. Overall, white
noise research is a step in the right direction for better hearing, whether that’s
with hearing aids or not.