Not only background noise: Multimodal investigations on the neural processing of unattended sounds in natural environments.


Imagine speaking to a friend in a café, with music and crockery noise in the background. Your brain will be tuned to optimally extract information for your primary goal (understanding your friend). Probably, however, you will still be able to recognize a familiar tune or detect the voice of a newly arrived friend. This suggests that the brain gathers information from stimuli and events even outside the direct focus of attention. Because most of the neuroscience studies focused on actively attended sounds, it remains largely unknown how the brain does this. This proposal aims to study the neural mechanisms for analyzing unattended background sounds within naturalistic scenarios. This knowledge is required for gaining a full understanding and, ultimately, for modelling the brain analysis of complex auditory scenes.
In the first part (Study 1,2), I will employ non-invasive electroencephalography (EEG) and novel analytical techniques (EEG-based sound tracking) to assess quantitatively the information the brain entails of unattended sounds. Specifically, I will investigate whether and under which perceptual demand multiple unattended sounds remain segregated in the brain or are merged into a single background. Furthermore, combining EEG with simultaneous 7 Tesla fMRI (Study 3), I will gather detailed knowledge on spatial (fMRI) and temporal (EEG) brain activity patterns underlying the representation of unattended sounds.
Finally, in Study 4, I will link EEG-tracking measures (as derived in Study 1-3) with computational algorithms of auditory scene analysis. This will enable detecting in real-time which sound within a scene a listener is attending to and under which perceptual load. As EEG is portable, the proposed approach may ultimately contribute to the development of novel brain-aided artificial hearing devices. Such devices could enhance hearing in noisy environments for the normally hearing and for the rapidly growing population experiencing moderate levels of (age-related) hearing loss.





Dr. L. Hausfeld

Verbonden aan

Maastricht University


Dr. L. Hausfeld


01/11/2017 tot 30/09/2020