Hearing is a multi-sensoried thing

We frequently get asked how a program like Fast ForWord Language, which doesn’t include any words or even letters, can have a positive impact on students’ reading abilities. The answer lies in the fact that reading, even silently, is an auditory exercise (that is, it stimulates the auditory cortex of the brain). Develop the processing efficiency of the auditory cortex (with a program like Fast ForWord Language), and you can improve reading abilities.

From today’s Boston Globe, more insight into just how complex and interconnected our sensory systems are:

In the work published yesterday in the journal Nature, researchers found they could influence what people hear by delivering puffs of air to the back of a hand or their neck.

For years, scientists have known that watching another person speak can affect what we hear. In a well-known phenomenon called the McGurk effect, a person who listens to audio of someone saying “ba ba ba,’’ while watching another person’s lips forming the words “ga ga ga,’’ hears something in-between: “da da da.’’

Now, Gick is exploring whether touch also affects hearing. In the experiment, subjects heard the sounds “pa’’ or “ba’’ and “ta’’ or “da.’’ Sometimes, participants received a puff of air on the back of their hand or neck when the words had an aspirated sound – a sound like “pa’’ or “ta’’ that requires the speaker to expel a puff of air. (Hold your hand to your mouth and say “pa’’ and compare it with “ba’’ to feel the difference.) Other times, they got the reverse: a puff of air when they heard “ba’’ or “da’’ – non-aspirated sounds.

The researchers found that when the puff of air was paired with the aspirated word, people got better at identifying the sound. When the puff of air was paired with “ba’’ or “da,’’ accuracy declined.

Says the Globe, reading isn’t the only “non-auditory” activity to stimulate the auditory centers of the brain:

In a 2006 study from Finland, researchers used brain imaging to study 13 subjects and found that touch activated the auditory cortex, a part of the brain involved in hearing.

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