Neurophysiology of everyday life (Emmy Noether Group)
Unwanted sound, generally referred to as noise, is an environmental pollutant which may cause hearing loss. Additionally, noise also acts as an unspecific stressor with detrimental effects on biological and psychological processes: noise pollution has been associated with cardiovascular problems, sleep disturbance, and cognitive impairments. These harmful non-auditory effects of noise pollution typically only occur accumulated over time.
However, it is challenging to determine under which conditions environmental noise has adverse effects because whether a person perceives a sound as disturbing, annoying or stressful cannot be derived from the acoustic properties of the sound. Any particular sound, independent of its sound pressure level or other features, may be experienced as noise and, thus, can have negative consequences on well-being. Instead, how a sound is perceived depends on individual preferences, cognitive capacity, current occupation, and duration of exposure. Therefore, we need a perception based noise dosimetry that allows quantification of the perceived noise exposure for extended periods of time.
Recent developments in mobile electroencephalography (EEG) provide the possibility to study brain activity beyond the lab and thereby allow investigating how individuals perceive noise in everyday situations. Rather than monitoring the presence of noise, we can monitor the perceived noise exposure in the brain. In this research project, we want to use a combination of wireless EEG, concealed ear-centered electrode placement, and smartphone-based signal acquisition to study sound and noise perception in daily-life situations on an individual basis.
We will approach this topic in two parallel research lines. In the first research line, we will establish a relationship between EEG acquisition in the lab and in everyday situations. In the second research line, we will address individual noise perception and noise annoyance. On the one hand, we will work on overcoming the challenges involved in the acquisition and interpretation of EEG-signals that were acquired outside of the lab – this concerns signal artifacts and comparability to lab-based recordings. On the other hand, we will objectify the subjective noise disturbance in the lab and at the workplace. This takes place on three levels: subjective assessment, noise dosimetry and the recording of brain activity. Data obtained in the lab will be related to data obtained at the workplace. Our work will advance the field of mobile ear-centered EEG and will provide new insights on dealing with individual noise exposure.