Monday, August 1, 2011

Dyslexia makes voices hard to discern, study finds

People with dyslexia struggle to recognise familiar voices, scientists suggest.

The finding is the first tentative evidence that small sounds in the human voice that vary between people are difficult for dyslexics to hear.

Writing in the journal Science, the scientists say that many people could have some degree of "voice blindness".

By studying it, scientists hope to better understand how the human brain has evolved to recognise speech.

Humans rely on small sounds called phonemes to tell one person from another.

As we first try to form the word dog, for example, phonemes are the "duh"-"og"-"guh" sounds that our parents prompt us to make.

But as we master the ability to read, we become less reliant on recognising these sounds to read, and eventually stop noticing them.

Despite ignoring them, however, phonemes remain important for voice recognition.

The tiny inflections in the way people pronounce phonemes gives a listener cues to tell one voice from another.

Because people who suffer from dyslexia are known to struggle with phonemes when reading, a US-based team of scientists wondered whether they might also struggle hearing them in people's voices.

Listen well
To investigate, the team grouped 30 people of similar age, education and IQ into two camps: those with and without a history of dyslexia.

The subjects then went through a training period to learn to associate 10 different voices - half speaking English and half speaking Chinese - with 10 computer-generated avatars.

The subjects were then later quizzed on how many of those voices they could match to the avatars.

Non-dyslexics outperformed people with a history of dyslexia by 40% when listening to English.

However, this advantage disappeared when the groups were listening to Chinese.

read more of the article here: BBC News - Dyslexia makes voices hard to discern, study finds

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