In our group, we explore the general principles of auditory learning, a process that leads to dramatic improvements in perceptual skills. We seek to identify the circumstances that are necessary for learning to occur as well as those that disrupt learning. These principles are examined using stimuli ranging from simple sounds to speech, and tasks ranging from fine-grained discrimination to categorization and intelligibility. For example, we have demonstrated that exposure to an acoustic stimulus can facilitate learning on a perceptual task, but only when that exposure occurs within ~30 minutes of practice on that task. Although we focus on normal adults, we also pursue how learning changes with age, sensory experience (hearing loss), and cognitive background (e.g., language and reading disorders).
One proposal currently under study with a learning paradigm is that individuals with reading disorders often perform poorly on auditory perceptual tasks because their perceptual development is delayed in childhood and then halted during adolescence. Thus, research on perceptual learning may lead to more effective training strategies for those with perceptual disorders and may be used as objective, clinical measures to guide diagnosis and treatment of cognitive disorders.