How the sounds we hear help us predict how things feel

Researchers at the University of East Anglia have made an important discovery about the way our brains process the sensations of sound and touch.

A new study published today shows how the brain’s different sensory systems are all closely interconnected — with regions that respond to touch also involved when we listen to specific sounds associated with touching objects.

They found that these areas of the brain can tell the difference between listening to sounds such as such as a ball bouncing, or the sound of typing on a keyboard.

It is hoped that understanding this key area of brain function may in future help people who are neurodiverse, or with conditions such as schizophrenia or anxiety. And it could lead to developments in brain-inspired computing and AI.

Lead researcher Dr Fraser Smith, from UEA’s School of Psychology, said: “We know that when we hear a familiar sound such as a bouncing a ball, this leads us to expect to see a particular object. But what we have found is that it also leads the brain to represent what it might feel like to touch and interact with that object.

“These expectations can help the brain process sensory information more efficiently.”

The research team used an MRI scanner to collect brain imaging data while 10 participants listened to sounds generated by interacting with objects — such as bouncing a ball, knocking on a door, crushing paper, or typing on a keyboard.

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