Intentional switching of auditory selective attention: Studies on dynamic binaural hearing in complex acoustic environments

Key Info

Basic Information

Funding Program:
DFG Sachbeihilfe
Research Area:
Auditorische Szenenanalyse,


The topic of the present collaborative project (Medical Acoustics and Cognitive Psychology) is the exploration of cognitive control mechanisms underlying auditory selective attention. In the first project period, we have successfully established a novel experimental reaction-time (RT) paradigm that allows us to examine systematically the cognitive shifting (“reconfiguration”) of selective attention. The most relevant experimental variation pertains to the switch (vs. repetition) of the criteria for auditory target selection, so that we can assess RT switch costs as a measure of the flexibility of attentional control. The aim of the second project period is to examine the influence of variables that increase the complexity of the auditory scene with respect to technical aspects (dynamic binaural hearing with consideration of room acoustics and head movements) and that influence the efficiency of cognitive processing. Important technical question refer to the influence of room acoustics, noise, and head movements of participants in auditory scenes. In the first project period we have made an important step towards realistic, natural auditory scenes by using binaural reproduction techniques. However, in daily life, good or bad room acoustics and extraneous noise affect auditory processing (e.g., localization performance and speech comprehension) and are thus important factors in realistic acoustic scenes. Using simulated rooms including further sources of noise, we seek to establish a further technical step towards complexity and plausibility. One important feature is the dynamic adaptation of the acoustic scene by considering head movements of participants. Important psychological questions refer to the factors that determine the ability to prepare for a switch in attention and that affect the efficiency of preparation (e.g., type of cue to direct attention). Furthermore, type and complexity (e.g., duration) of auditory stimuli, required responses as well as task-specific target classification are factors that will be explored in separate series of experiments. Finally, we will also examine age-related impairments in the flexibility of attentional control in selective listening. A better understanding of the cognitive mechanisms underlying age-related performance decline in selective listening and of the modulation by technical and environmental influences represents an important goal of basic science. In the longer term, the achieved knowledge will give also input for designing more applied measures for improving selective listening in complex auditory scenes.