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Perceptual Learning: Assessment and Training Across the Mechanical Senses

Creative Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license

The possibility of directed improvement of perceptual ability is the main force behind this work. In contrast to the majority of perceptual studies that focus on vision, this work centers on the mechanical senses of touch and hearing. In the case of touch perception, aspects of vibratory stimulation that would promote perceptual learning that transfers to untrained features were explored. This line of inquiry has the long-term goal of building useful training for prosthetic limb control. In the case of hearing, a much more nuanced depiction of relevant dimensions of perceptual ability is provided based on research from the fields of psychophysics and auditory neuroscience. We identify and begin to address the need for translation of this scientific laboratory work into a clinical domain. To this end, a number of central auditory processes assessments with potential clinical relevance was validated in a portable automatic rapid testing (PART) platform. We present robust results across different external noise conditions as well as variations of portable device, headphones, and testing settings (lab vs home). Our results suggest PART may be used to start collecting large enough datasets to create performance norms and ultimately translate these laboratory assessments into clinical practice. Finally, we use PART as the assessment element to evaluate perceptual improvement after an auditory training video-game intervention called Listen that incorporates a body of findings in perceptual learning (PL) to promote learning that would generalize to the ability to perceive speech in noise. We present promising preliminary results with a young normal hearing sample and suggest a potential application for people in need. Such application could serve to improve people’s lives in meaningful ways through the preservation or improvement of hearing. In conclusion, the work compiled here portrays a somewhat broad picture of conducting PL research across the mechanical senses (touch and audition) where the complexities of assessment and training choices and the different possible scopes of perceptual training are detailed. This dissertation represents a methodological tool for PL research. At the same time it provides examples on the use of PART (auditory assessments) and Listen (auditory training), tools developed by the Brain Game Center that have plenty of potential for basic and clinical research beyond the confines of this dissertation.

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