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A timely touch transforms speech perception

Air puffs on the hand or neck influence people’s ability to hear certain spoken sounds.

By
1:34pm, November 25, 2009

People listen with their skin, not just their ears. Air puffs delivered to volunteers’ hands or necks at critical times alter their ability, for better or worse, to hear certain speech sounds, a new study finds.

Tactile and auditory information, as well as other sensory inputs, interact in the brain to foster speech perception, propose linguists Bryan Gick and Donald Derrick, both of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

In many languages, speakers expel a small burst of air to make aspirated sounds. In English, for example, aspiration distinguishes ta from da and pa from ba.

Volunteers were more likely to identify aspirated syllables correctly when they heard those syllables while receiving slight, inaudible air puffs to the skin, Gick and Derrick report in the Nov. 26 Nature. Air puffs enhanced detection of aspirated ta and pa sounds and increased the likelihood of mishearing n

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