Training listening abilities – STAR (System for Testing Auditory Responses)

Training listening abilities – STAR (System for Testing Auditory Responses)

A number of our studies involving people with hearing loss or tinnitus examine the benefits of training. Our training tasks usually involve doing a simple task (such as deciding which of three notes was higher than the others) repeatedly, and changing the difficulty each time to find a level where people find it difficult but not impossible; this is, defined as your 'threshold' for the task. This is called an ‘adaptive’ task. We start with a level that is relatively easy, so that most people will be able to get it right. Every time they get it right we make the task a bit more difficult until they can't do it anymore and get one wrong. We then make the task easier again, and carry on adapting the difficulty up and down according to whether they get it right or wrong. This is the best way to improve on a task.

Researchers and engineers at the Medical Research Council Institute of Hearing Research (MRC IHR) have developed an adaptive task within a computer program called STAR. You can read and hear more about this work published in the Journal of Visualised Experiments. The program runs listening tests in the form of simple interactive game-like tasks that are engaging to children. Characters on the screen open their mouths and appear to speak the sounds being played, while other graphics provide prompting and feedback. We have used STAR to evaluate training as a novel management strategy to assist people with hearing loss.

This short video clip shows how STAR works. The example is one we would use with children, but the adult games follow the same principle.

In this clip, an ear appears inside the red ball when the test is about to start. The three characters each make a sound, either /bee/ or /dee/, one after the other. When the red ball returns back to its resting position, your task is to select the character that sounded different from the other two (i.e. the odd one out). If you get this right, the next set of sounds become more difficult, but if you get it wrong, the sounds become easier. Sometimes it is not possible to say which is the odd one out. In this case, you have to guess.

Feedback is provided throughout the test. If your response is right, the character will jump up and down. The clock will move across the top of screen to show how far along the game is, and the test finishes once it gets to the end.

The below image shows a close up of one track from ten trials: