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A new state-of-the-art space at Western University will allow neuroscientists to study virtual reality through sound.

Sounds like those of a playground can be played over the speakers in the new virtual acoustic space at Western's renowned Brain and Mind Institute

“A lot of auditory research is conducted in soundproof rooms - people sitting at a desk, listening to headphones, and listening to one sound at a time, and real life is just not like that,” says Dr. Ingrid Johnsrude, director of the Brain and Mind Institute.

That’s where the new acoustic space could become a game-changer for researchers, with its 91 speakers and four sub-woofers.

“The speakers are symmetrical on both sides so that we can study both sides of space equally well, as well as sound coming from the front, sound coming from overhead, and even sound coming from down below,” Johnsrude says.

The space is going to be used for research like working with visually impaired individuals in the community to see how sound effects their everyday life.

She continues, “We can use this virtual acoustic space to examine exactly how good people who are blind are at locating sounds in space. And also we can study the kind of information they extract from echoes because we can simulate echoes very effectively in this space.”

Johnsrude says researchers will also be able to better examine the effectiveness and programming of hearing aids, “To figure out how best to engineer the sounds that are being processed by those hearing aids to enable them to get more benefit from those aids for example.”

The virtual acoustic space has been three years in the making and will now be an advanced new tool for neuroscience research at Western.