If you have difficulty following along with what is said at dinner parties at Addams Tavern on Elm Street and tend to feel overwhelmed by conversations, you’re not alone. This phenomenon is called listening fatigue by audiologists.
One study published last year uncovered that background noise could cause too many brain cells to fire in certain populations. In this post, we review more about this study and what it means for you.
About the Study
The December 2022 study, which is called “Decreased Modulation of Population Correlations in Auditory Cortex Is Associated with Decreased Auditory Detection Performance in Old Mice,” was published in the Journal of Neuroscience. The researchers are from Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland.
The researchers worked with mice, including 12 older mice (ages 16 to 24 months) and 10 younger mice (ages two to six months). They recorded the activity of 8,078 neurons (brain cells) in all the mice’s auditory cortex regions.
The mice were conditioned to lick a water spout each time a tone was played. The researchers played the tone both over silence and over background noise.
When the tone was played over silence, the old and young mice licked the water spout consistently each time. However, when background noise was introduced, the old mice had trouble detecting the tone. In some cases, they licked the water spout before the tone was even played.
While monitoring the mice’s neuroactivity, the researchers saw that there was twice as much in the old mice than the young mice when the background noise was present. In the young mice, while in some areas, activity increased, in other areas, it decreased.
This demonstrates that the old mice could not suppress the effects of the background noise on their neuroactivity, though the young mice could.
Though the authors acknowledge more research is needed on this topic, they also are able to make hypotheses. One hypothesis is that mammals’ brains have flexible learning potential, enabling them to be taught to focus on individual sounds amid distracting background noise. This is hopeful information for people with hearing loss who have trouble in complex listening situations.
To learn more or to schedule an appointment for a hearing test, call Speech & Hearing Associates today.