PhD studentship Neural indices of listening effort and fatigue in unilateral cochlear-implant users

Closing date: 30 April 2018
Department: Objective measures
Salary: £15,000 pa

Project title: Neural indices of listening effort and fatigue in unilateral cochlear-implant users with and without a contralateral hearing aid

Supervisors:

Dr Ian Wiggins [ian.wiggins@nottingham.ac.uk]

Prof Douglas Hartley [douglas.hartley@nottingham.ac.uk]

Dr Pádraig Kitterick [padraig.kitterick@nottingham.ac.uk]

Funding status: Fully funded studentship (supported by Action on Hearing Loss and Advanced Bionics) Home/EU students only.

Application deadline: 30th April 2018

Project description:

The cochlear implant is a remarkable medical technology that can restore a form of hearing to individuals with severe-to-profound hearing loss. However, the quality of sound provided by a cochlear implant is not as good as normal hearing. This means that listening after cochlear implantation can take a lot of mental effort, especially in noisy places like a classroom, open-plan office or busy restaurant. This increased listening effort may lead to fatigue, cause people to withdraw from social and professional activities, and ultimately contribute to cognitive decline.

The first aim of this project is to understand how the brain must work harder to cope with the challenges of listening through a cochlear implant. We will use the emerging optical brain-imaging technique functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to examine brain activity as people listen through their implant in different conditions. Simultaneously, we will use eye-tracking technology to record the size of participants’ pupils: the pupils grow larger with increased mental exertion, providing an objective marker of listening effort.

The second aim of this project is to explore what can be done to improve matters. Specifically, we will look at whether wearing a hearing aid on the opposite ear to the implant can make listening easier. Around one half of patients choose to wear a hearing aid in this way, although many questions are currently unanswered: Does this reduce listening effort? If so, under what listening conditions? Do some patients benefit more than others? How does the brain benefit from the different signals in each ear?

This research will provide new insights into why listening is effortful for cochlear-implant users, while at the same time helping patients and clinicians make more informed choices about the use of a hearing aid in the opposite ear. The project is jointly funded by Action on Hearing Loss, the largest charity for people with hearing loss in the UK, and Advanced Bionics, a leading global manufacturer of cochlear implants.

The successful applicant will join a vibrant research group and benefit from strong supervisory and peer support.

Subject area:
Medicine, deafness, audiology, cochlear implantation, hearing aids, hearing research, neuroimaging, fNIRS, pupillometry, listening effort, speech perception

Funding notes:
You should have or expect to obtain a first class or upper 2.1 honours degree (or equivalent), or an MSc/MA, in psychology, audiology, neuroimaging, acoustics or other relevant scientific discipline. Experience of conducting human volunteer studies, working with patients or people with hearing loss, neuroimaging, and/or computer programming (esp. in Matlab) will be of advantage. You will have excellent communication and team-working skills, be self-driven and highly motivated. You should also be eligible to apply for relevant research clearances, as required.

References:
Applications should include a CV and covering letter including the names, addresses, telephone numbers and email addresses of two referees including at least one academic referee. Applications should be sent to ian.wiggins@nottingham.ac.uk

Additional enquiries:
Informal enquiries may be addressed to Dr Ian Wiggins: ian.wiggins@nottingham.ac.uk.