Skip to main content

Speech and hearing science research at ASU attracts national funding

July 19, 2010

Innovative ideas to improve the lives of people with speech and hearing disorders have netted recent funding from the National Institutes of Health for several Arizona State University researchers. 

Three July 1 grants adding up to $5.3 million are on top of more than a dozen other grants totaling $3.7 million annually awarded to the 12 tenure track faculty in the ASU Department of Speech and Hearing Science in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Cochlear implant users to test modifications 

Speech and hearing science professor Michael Dorman is one of the investigators on a $3.2 million grant set to examine the fitting approach used for cochlear implants. The five-year grant was awarded by NIH’s National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders to principal investigator Philipos Loizou of the University of Texas. 

The approach currently used for cochlear implants assumes that the initial fitting of the device, typically done in a clinic, should work just as well in all listening situations. Speech coding algorithms and other parameters are not adjusted based on the user’s listening environment. 

This research will use a portable sound processor designed to allow patients with cochlear implants to make adjustments to the processor in different listening situations. The researchers will use feedback from patient trials to determine the usefulness of the ability to adjust the device. 

Intelligibility-deficit model aims to shed light on disordered speech 

Disordered speech often results in an intelligibility deficit, or difficulty being understood. Julie Liss, an ASU associate professor of speech and hearing science, was awarded a $1.6 million grant along with Andrew Lotto of the University of Arizona to explore production and perception of disordered speech. 

The research, funded for five years, will focus on developing a model of intelligibility deficits by recognizing targets for correction and providing variables that could be used to predict perceptual outcomes and track speech changes due to intervention or disease progression. These objective variables will hopefully be able to be applied to any reduced-intelligibility communication disorder. 

The award was one of the best rated proposals funded by NIH’s National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders for spring 2010. 

Heart rate tests add new dimension to understanding of hearing-impaired anxiety 

Speech and hearing science research associate Tony Spahr was awarded a three-year, $457,500 grant from the NIDCD to investigate the stress experienced by hearing-impaired listeners in trying to communicate, specifically in noisy situations. 

To date, the frequent feelings of anxiety and fatigue experienced by hearing-impaired listeners have commonly been documented using subjective reports or questionnaires. Spahr’s research aims to quantify stress responses by analyzing heart-rate variability, or inconsistency between consecutive heart beats, as listeners try to understand speech presented with different amounts of background noise. 

Heart-rate variability can provide evidence of changes in effort required for understanding speech in various situations, according to preliminary studies.


Written by Maria Polletta (

Carol Hughes,
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences