Feb 2017 Knowledge Science Report

People in noisy situations should face slightly away from the person they’re listening to and turn one ear towards the speech. A new study concludes that this listening tactic is especially beneficial for cochlear implant users who typically struggle in noisy social settings such as restaurants.

PartyThe study also finds it compatible with lip-reading, which was unaffected by a modest, 30-degree head orientation. “Noise can be a big issue for any listener and especially for someone with a cochlear implant,” says Jacques Grange of Cardiff University’s School of Psychology.

“Our study shows that by simply turning one ear towards the person they are listening to, cochlear implant users find it much easier to hear that person above background noise, enabling them to engage in conversations in noisy environments, and not become isolated. It’s better to have a clear signal in one ear than a mediocre signal in both.” 

When tested in the laboratory, with the speech in front of the listener and interfering noise behind, the technique resulted in a 4-decibel improvement to intelligibility of speech in a noisy environment for both normal-hearing listeners and cochlear implant users. A 4-decibel improvement can be the difference between understanding nothing and perfect understanding.

To simulate a realistic restaurant listening situation, acoustic measurements were also taken in the Mezza Luna restaurant in Cardiff and used to create a virtual acoustic simulation. In the simulation normally hearing listeners were tested at each table with three different head orientations: facing the target talker, with a 30-degree head turn to the left, or with a 30-degree head turn to the right.