Listening to continuous white noise could help humans to detect pure sounds more precisely.

By Kelly Vaughan
November 15, 2019

White noise machines have long been touted for their ability to help people fall asleep without being disturbed by background sounds. Now, new research reveals that there may be another benefit to listening to white noise: Doing so could result in improved hearing. A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Basel found that with a background of continuous white noise, the ability to detect pure sounds can become even more precise. According to ScienceDaily, "the more precisely [humans] can distinguish sound patterns, the better our hearing is."

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Dr. Tania Rinaldi Barkat from the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and her team of researchers studied the auditory brain, the part of the mind that can process acoustic stimuli. Their primary question was "How does the sensory representation change with noise, and how does the brain make sense of it?"

Related: How Does a White Noise Machine Help You Fall Asleep?

Their study also helped to understand how the brain can distinguish between relevant and less relevant information in an environment with distracting background noise. While their research was tested on mice, the implication that humans' hearing ability may benefit from white noise is remarkable.

Researchers used light-controlled technique optogenetics to confirm that the auditory cortex was responsible for the change in sound perception, and not another part of the brain. The team found that the brain's ability to distinguish subtle tone differences improved when white noise was added to the background. Researchers believe that a small cochlear implant could be stimulated with an effect similar to white noise to further improve the hearing ability of users.

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