February 20, 2011

BATMAN POWER by Ace Ligsay

As I close my eyes and dwell into the darkness of the night, sounds are becoming vivid, clear and magical.  The sound of a cricket, or the electric fan, or the snore of my roommate are like movie sounds in Dolby Digital.  Even though my eyes are close, everything seems to be visually clear; I can see things by the power of sound. 
Batman’s amazing power to send high frequencies sonar signals is brought about by echolocation.  Bats use this to find food and see in the dark.  Dolphins also use the same technique to find dinner.  Echolocation is a technique that uses sound to identify objects by the echoes the produced.

Ben Underwood (died because of cancer) is considered as a superhuman, using echolocation he saw things clearly, surviving every single day like a normal person.   Research suggests that brains of the blind do not make the visual cortex useless.  When blind people use another sense- hearing in the case of Ben- to substitute for sight, the brain’s visual cortex becomes active.  And the echolocation takes its role to create images (abcnews.go.com, 2006).
Aggressive Spanish scientists have found evidence that most humans can learn to echolocate.  The team also confirmed that the so-called palate click—a sharp click made by depressing the tip of the tongue against the roof of the mouth—is the most effective noise for people to use (National Geographic News, 2009).
Methods and Results of the Experiment
Ten sighted students were trained by Juan Antonio Martínez and his colleagues at the University of Alcalá in Madrid to echolocate.  The students were asked to close their eyes and make sounds until they could tell whether any objects were nearby.   After just a few days of training, the students had all acquired basic echolocation skills, the scientists report in the March/April 2009 issue of the journal Acta Acustica.  After studying the shape of the sound wave that each noise produced, Martínez and his colleagues found that the palate click gives the most detailed feedback about a person's surroundings.  (National Geograhic News, 2009)

Martinez stressed that an average person can develop good echolocation skills in a month  if he or she trains for one or two hours a day. Blind people are likely to pick up the skill more quickly, Martínez said.
People who master echolocation can be close to Batman super heroic nature by maximizing the thing they can do in foggy, smoky or dark locations.


Ravilious, K. (2009). Humans Can Learn to "See" With Sound, Study Says.   National Geographic News. Retrieved:  http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/07/090706-humans-bats-echolocation_2.html



White noise is not just noise after all! Erik Andrade Tongol

 The perception of noise is somewhat subjective, but to a lot of people noise refers to any unwanted or undesirable sound. To me, noise is a distraction. I lose my focus when there is too much noise around.  I could not memorize and understand something if I can hear noise, I could not focus my attention in class if there are people talking or there are loud noises outside the classroom, and I get irritated to people who are really noisy. My brain requires a quiet and noiseless environment in order to function properly.

            As I was looking for a journal article for this blog entry, a study by Soderlund et al. (2010) really got me curious. When I read the title of their study, The effects of background white noise on memory performance in inattentive school children, I was really skeptical and thought that this is bullsh*t (Pardon my language).  The researchers predicted that the performance of inattentive children would improve while the attentive children’s performance will worsen. The researchers subjected fifty-one secondary school students into an episodic free recall test having two noise conditions, high and low noise conditions. In the first condition, sentences and a white noise of 78 dB were presented simultaneously to the students. In the low noise condition, the sentences were presented alone and without the white noise. Results showed that exposure to the background white noise improved performance for inattentive students and worsened performance for attentive students.

            The results are very surprising because who would have ever thought that noise, specifically white noise, can improve cognitive performance in school. These findings can be very useful to students who are having a hard time in school. Adding a little white noise would not hurt children and it can greatly improve their cognitive abilities. Next time that I find myself having a hard time focusing in class, I will just bring out my ipod and play me some white noise.

We should give white noise more credit because it is not just used as a medium for spirits to communicate with people but also a tool for improving performance. White noise is so underrated.

Soderlund, G., Sikstrom, S., Loftesnes, J., & Sonuga-Barke, E. (2010). The effects of background white noise on memory performance in inattentive school children. Behavioral and Brain Functions6(55), 51-66.

Music Keeps Me Alive by Patrick Rabanal

            Music has been a part of the lives of most cultures in the world. It has been used for different rituals and celebrations, or even just for entertainment and for the “arts”. Now let us take a look at the benefits of music.

           Have you ever heard the saying, “Music soothes the savage beast”? It is true. Music can help us feel calm and revitalized in ways that even sleeping or taking a nap can’t. Music holds the power to either promote or even change our moods. It can bring back memories, both good and bad, and trigger strong feelings.

            Studies have found that music can provide an immediate biological and psychological benefit for everyone. Many may even turn to music when faced with most psychological challenges. Have you ever found yourself singing in the shower or while driving the car? Some may listen to music to inspire or distract themselves from real life. I know I have. I usually sing in the shower or in the car because it is a time when I am alone which makes me reflect and think about life. I guess singing just helps me release some of the emotions I have been hiding. It just seems to make me feel better.
            Does music really help one get over bad times? In a previous study, Thayer, et al.(1994), tried to look into how people change their bad moods, raise energy, or reduce tension. They used questionnaires to find out which behaviors people most often used to change their mood. From their 308 respondents, 47% reported listening to music, coming after talking with someone (54%) and controlling own thoughts like thinking positively (51%).There are moments in our life when we feel sad and lonely and it seems like we can’t find anybody to talk to. Also there are times when positive thinking just doesn’t cut it. So what should we do? With the technology today, with our cellphones, ipods, and mp3 players, music has become very accessible to us and even without these we can even just sing acapela.

            Music has been overlooked about its therapeutic relevance. Some studies have even found that its benefits in the medical scene (Kemper & Danhauer, 2005). It has helped promote the patients well being and even distract them from unpleasant symptoms. It also helps improve mood and decrease anxiety which is very useful for those who would undergo surgery and other medical procedures.

            Now we know that music can help alter mood, but can mood alter our preference for music. Whenever I feel sad, I usually listen to slower songs, or those that people may call emo but when I’m happy, I listen to more upbeat songs. In a study by Chen et al.,(2007). They noticed that people with a sad mood tend to listen to songs that have been categorized as sad songs as compared to those with neutral or normal mood.

           Putting more music in your life is a powerfully enriching tool. Music can be entertaining, bring back memories, trigger strong feelings, distract, and comfort. If you feel sad and have no one to talk to try listening to your favorite songs and when you feel that life seems so boring, try looking for music that you really like and put more color into your world.

Chen, L., Zhou, S., & Bryant, J. (2007). Temporal Changes in Mood Repair Through Music Consumption: Effects of Mood, Mood Salience, and Individual Differences. Conference Papers -- International Communication Association, 1.

Kemper, K. J., & Danhauer, S. C. (2005). Music as Therapy. Southern Medical Journal, 98(3), 282-288.

Thayer, R. E., Newman, J., & McClain, T. M. (1994). Self-Regulation of Mood: Strategies for Changing a Bad Mood, Raising Energy, and Reducing Tension. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 67(5), 910-925.

February 19, 2011

I HEART ROCK: may not be as bad for the ears BY VHINA SISON

I am a fan rock music! I love listening to rock music and even way back in highschool I was fond of listening to heavy rock music from my favorite bands like evanescence, paramour, My chemical romance, chicosci, greenday etc. I kinda like keeping the volumes up for a better experience of the music. 

Although I am very much aware that loud music can cause hearing damage especially if there is long, frequent exposure to this “loud noise”. These loud noises can cause degeneration of hair cells. However what I am more interested in is temporary hearing loss which is also known as temporary threshold shift. Sensitivity to sounds can be shifted and may cause an upward shift in doing so. This can be dangerous to an extent in that it may lead one to suffer more serious hearing damages, especially if frequent experiences of having so occur.
In an interesting note however, although I know it is likely to be in my case, I found an article that says that subjective factors also play an important role in Temporary Threshold shift upon hearing noise or music.
2 groups of the subjects, wherein one group indicated a liking for pop/rock music and the other one indicated a dislike for pop/rock music, were both exposed to noise and music, pop/rock music. Using audiometry and also some questionnaires to assess subjective factors in the study, proper measuring temporary threshold shifts were executed.
Results show that the subjects who expressed preference for the music they are exposed to exhibited less TTS ( temporary threshold shift) as compared to those who disliked the music. TTS was greater in those who expressed dislike for pop/rock music. 

This may show a slight hope for those people who are avid fans of pop/rock music. I am afraid that        having been listening to this kind of music over the past years may have damaged my hearing abilities ( and this may be true to an extent). However having read this article has made me think otherwise that maybe just maybe the damage isn’t as great as I have predicted it to be. Since I really do like listening to the songs I listen to, threshold shifts may not be as detrimental as one would think.
 In a related article that I have read, results showed that Pop/rock musicians even if having been exposed in a long duration to frequent, loud music (for as long as 26 years) surprisingly exhibited well-preserved hearing. Researchers have indicated that positive attitudes towards performance may have played a role as a protective effect thus reducing hearing damages. 

YESSSS! Maybe I don’t really have to stop listening to rock music because my liking for it and how awesome I think it is may reduce hearing loss. However, I am very much aware that numerous studies swere conducted how loud noise from heavy metal, rock music can be truly detrimental to one’s hearing. In a research study by Kahari & et. al. (2004), assessing hearing damage among musicians, revealed that 74%, a relatively large number of pop/rock musician had suffered hearing disorders such as hearing loss, tinnitus and hyperacusis. Thus still exposure to loud music, high frequencies for that matter can be bad for the ears. I guess, It wouldn’t hurt to take some precautions as to preserve my hearing, like keeping volume levels at minimum and avoiding excessive exposure to loud noises. I don’t ever want to lose my sense of hearing so Id better keep these crucial things in mind, and really give my ears the care that they deserve. 

Kahari, K., Zachau, G. & et. al.(2004). The influence of music and stress on musicians’ hearing. Journal of sound and vibration 277(3),627-631

Willaims,L. & Wilkins,B. (1987). The Influence of Subjective Factors on Temporary Threshold Shifts after Exposure to Music and Noise of Equal Energy.Journal of the american auditory societ, 8(5)

Williams, L. & Wilkins, B. (1995). Hearing in Pop/Rock Musicians: A Follow-up Study. Journal of the American auditory society, 16(3)

On Infrasound and the Supernatural, as Related by Alexander Leandro Dela Fuente

I read in one of my books some time ago about the existence of infrasound; unfortunately, I don't remember what book that is. Luckily, an article appeared in Cracked.com detailing the same phenomenon, so that means I have something to write about tonight.

I'll cut to the chase: infrasound consists of a bass sound that is so low as to be nearly imperceptible to the human ear. When detected, infrasound causes affected humans to experience a wide range of effects, including anxiety, extreme sorrow, and chills. (Associated Press 2005)

Yes, I know I just used one of the scariest of all words when it comes to scientific research - "causes." How dare I, you must be thinking - how dare I.

Unfortunately, I have the research to back it up. International Coolperson of Science Vic Tandy wrote two studies about the phenomenon. So what? Dear reader, the man did what no wuss could manage - actually feel and see a ghost, then go about discovering what made it possible.

It had nothing to do with Whoopi.
That's just one guy, you might say. Never mind that he went to visit reputedly haunted sites with the goal of discovering whether or not the same infrasound frequencies which produced his experience were present; that he did find them matters not to me, for I believe in sample sizes and dependent variables!

Fine, I can dig that. You know who else can? Two Richards - one called Wiseman, another Lord. Despite the rather unfortunate-sounding names, these two Richards are real scientists; the Wiseman is a psychologist from the University of Hertfordshire, while the Lord is an acoustic physicist from the National Physical Laboratory in England.

The two English Richards constructed a seven-meter long infrasonic cannon and set it up in the Purcell Room, a concert hall in South London. They then invited 750 people to report their feelings after listening to pieces of contemporary music intermittently laced sound from the cannon, played a 17 Hz at levels of 6-8 decibels. The respondents indicated a 22% increase in unusual sensations, including those listed previously, whenever the infrasound was playing. The fun part? The same infrasound is suspected to be present in church organ music. Those cavernous, echoing halls and that massive contraption of steel pipe and hardwood? Infrasound.

Considering the suspected link between religious experience and conditions affecting the temporal lobe - an area of the brain with an important role in regulating hearing - I would like to be so bold as to suggest that maybe finding out the truths about our universe has more to do with listening than it does with looking.

The helmet comes with earmuffs.

The Attack of the Pitch Nazi by Mikki Miranda

I assume you've heard of Grammar Nazis. These people have proliferated on the internet (see: Facebook and, more interestingly, Failbook) armed with a cunning sense of grammar expertise enough to deflate a commenter's self-worth. Take this one for example:

But wait! There's more!

(Inasmuch as I want to make your life easier, I want to prove a point.)

Yes, Grammar Nazis are brutal. One or two of them may be counting how many times I've failed at grammar right at this minute. Fortunately I am not a member of their species, but I represent a less aggressive (and quite long-suffering) group of people that is profoundly critical about a particular thing: people's pitch. You see, I admit that I'm a so-called Pitch Nazi. Although I do understand that some people are naturally tone-deaf (God bless them), there are some that I just can't tolerate. Because I have a pitch-sensitive ear, you could imagine how I cringe whenever I hear popular singers on local television going out-of-tune with their "birits" or even simply with their melodies. It's so painful that it's like hearing a fingernail being scraped on a blackboard. (Take note, I also know whether a person singing out of tune is doing it intentionally or not.) With fifteen years worth of formal musical training, I guess I've developed, shall I say, a "discriminating ear". (Personally, I blame choral training for making it more severe.)

Mein Fuhrer.

So what does my being a Pitch Nazi got to do with Perception? Well, for one thing, it is important that a bona fide Pitch Nazi has a legitimate and measurable talent in pitch discrimination. Consider it this way, one cannot call him/herself a Grammar Nazi if he/she scored low in the English part of the SATs. It is imperative that a Pitch Nazi scores high in pitch, tone, melody and rhythm tests. Having said that, I've explored a battery of tests online - those with extensive research behind them, of course - and urge you, my reader, to see if you're musically adept as well. 

The well-known online test for tone deafness is found in musicianbrain.com (take the test here) and is based on Dr. Gottfried Schlaug's intensive research on the relationship of pitch discrimination and the Heschl's gyrus. Another test is created by J. Mandell, a colleague of Schlaug, and it measures adaptive pitch. As you take Mandell's test, you will hear middle-range beeps (pure tones) that differ in either high or low amounts of frequency. As you continue to get better (or worse), the stimuli will adapt to your responses by getting lower or greater in terms of pitch difference. We remember from our lesson that frequency is related to pitch, and high frequency means perception of high pitch. Apparently, a person with perfect pitch can hear as much as +/-0.8 Hz tone difference. (Yours truly got a 1.2) The average person can hear a tonal difference of 3.98 Hz based on a population of 11,761 people who took the test online. 

Aside from pure tones, you can also test if you're in tune with melodies by taking the Distorted Tunes test. (Take the test here) It helps that you are aware of the melodies being played (like the Star-Spangled Banner or whatever) but it does take into account simply whether or not you noticed that the melody has changed to another tune. This standardized survey is based from Dr. Dennis Drayna's research with the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders in the US. 
Let me know your scores by posting below!

Finally, there is the Musical Ear Test (MET) designed by Wallentin and colleagues (2010) that measures musical abilities in both musicians and non-musicians in an objective way with a relatively short duration of time. The test consists of 104 trials in which participants judge whether two musical phrases are identical or not. These phrases are of the following types: melodic and rhythmical. 

(A) In their first experiment, they tested whether the MET is capable of distinguishing professional musicians and non-musicians. Using 40 musicians (10 male; 10 female) and 20 non-musicians (9 male; 11 female) as their participants, they found out the MET can discriminate between the two types of people. 
(B) In their second experiment, they tested if the overall result of the MET is as significant as a standardized test for musical expertise, namely the imitation test. Using 16 professional jazz/rock musicians and 5 non-musicians, they found out that the results of the MET are strongly strongly correlated with the results of the imitation test.  
(C) Lastly, they tested whether the MET can distinguish groups of non-musicians, amateurs and professional musicians. Sixty (60) participants took part of the experiment (18 professional, 21 amateur and 21 non-musicians). They found out that the internal consistency (Cronbach's alpha) for the whole test was a high 0.87. 

They also found that performance on the MET was significantly correlated with the amount of practice. Their findings show that the role of musical talent is limited and that the role of extensive practice should be emphasized. Indeed. Before I retired my choral singing career (or the lack of it!), I had the sound of middle C plastered on my memory. As we've learned, musical practice is a strong insight related to the experience-dependent plasticity of the brain. Practice makes pitch perfect

I'd like to know how I fare on the MET but it's not available online. Oh well. 


Wallentin, M., Nielsen, A., Friis-Ollivarius, M., Vuust, C. & Vuust, P. (2010). The Musical Ear Test, a new reliable test for measuring musical competence. Learning and Individual Differences. 20, 188-196. 

February 18, 2011

Dear Ears, I'm sorry. Love, Ge

Both my parents snore SOOOO LOUD that I grew up thinking it was the normal way grown-ups breathe when they’re asleep. The first time I encountered a grown-up sleeping without funny sounds coming out of her nose, I actually thought she was dead.

I suppose hearing people snore loudly at night should be bothersome, but I wouldn’t know because I’ve become so habituated that I don’t even notice anymore. I can sleep soundly all night no matter how many decibels the snores around me are.

My boyfriend snores too. He once fell asleep on the couch while I was studying for an exam, and he snored so loudly I actually wondered if the sounds were coming from the construction work going on next door. I guess it’s a good thing snores don’t bother me, or I might’ve failed that exam… or broken up with my boyfriend. HAHA.

This week in class, we learned about noise-induced hearing loss, or hearing loss caused by exposure to loud sounds. The first thing that came to my mind about this concept was how my mom always tells me I might end up damaging my eardrums if I don’t decrease the volume of my iPod when I listen to music. So I looked it up online and found that with the popularity of mp3 players these days, premature hearing loss caused by constantly listening to excessively loud music has become an important issue. So fine, I acknowledge that my mom was right about lowering the volume on my iPod, but yesterday I came across and even more interesting study. 

A group of researchers from Canada wanted to explore noise-induced hearing loss in people who snore as well as their bed partners. Using behavioral audiograms and otoacoustic emission testing, severely loud snoring participants ranging from 35 to 55 years old and their respective bed partners were tested for hearing. As it turns out, the snorers themselves did not experience any significant noise-induced hearing loss, but interestingly, their bed partners did! And what’s more, the ear that exhibited hearing loss was always the ear they reported was most often exposed to their partner’s snoring.

Now, I can’t help but wonder…
1.   Has my constant exposure to loud music and loud snores already affected my hearing? Maybe the “habituation” is actually already a sign of noise-induced hearing loss :(
2.   The study shows the effect when one partner snores and the other doesn’t, but what happens when BOTH bed partners snore simultaneously, like my parents? It seems to me like the dynamics would be different. I wonder how their hearing would be affected.
3.   How can I get the people around me to stop snoring?

I guess it’s time I pay more attention to taking care of my ears. I love music so much, I never want to lose my sense of hearing :( I think its easy to take our ears for granted because we don’t usually feel or see anything wrong with them. But its important to remember that the effects of what we expose our ears will probably manifest in the future, even if we don’t feel anything now.

Also, I have to get my mom, dad and boyfriend to see this video asap.

Sardesai, M. G., Tan, A. K. W., & Fitzpatrick, M. (2003). Noise-induced hearing loss in snorers and their bed partners. Journal of Otolaryngology. 32, 141-145.

Spencer, J. (2006, Jan 10). Behind the music: iPods and hearing loss. The Wall Street Journal, p. D1.

February 6, 2011

GRAY MATTERS: Seeing the World in Gray

In times of depression or extreme sadness, one of the remedies that seem to work for me is writing. I’m quite fond of writing poems just to let out some bottled up emotions I have inside. I’ve recently gone through some of the works I have done over the past couple of years and I’ve observed some recurring themes or lines. Here are a few lines that have been noticeably similar in content. 

The clouds turn gray,
Limp fields of roses sway feebly
Time rolls by languidly (2006)

My eyes awake to a fast-paced daze
Of bright shooting rays in sparkling days
I paint my own image with
A colorful hue, swirling in spirals, bathed in gray (2007)

The skies remain blank and gray
no matter how bright the rainbow shines
The happiness just doesn’t stay (2009)

Somehow, the world seems different and I feel like I see it through another set of eyes. Things seem gloomier when things just don’t make me happy on a normal basis. Life comes in as bleak and grey to me. Interestingly I came across this article (Friedman, 2010) that may give a kind of enlightenment to my curious observation. Recent biological findings provide a probable new perspective on how depression may affect our perception. 

In the University of Freiburg in Germany, Ludger Tebartz Van Elst a researcher hypothesized that depressed individuals “perceive the world as more gray”. He thus conducted a study on how depression can affect color perception. Findings indicate that depressed patients had a much more difficult time in rating the contrast levels of black and white images (Friedman, 2010). Biological aspects are executed with the help of a technological procedure involving a pattern electroretinogram (PERG). In his experiments he carried out another procedure which involved having the subjects watch a flashing image of a black and white checkerboard, while a scan recorded electrical impulses on the retina. This was to rule out the possibility that the difficulty in accomplishing the task is a mere case of decreased attention. 
depressed individuals perceive the world as more gray

Results show that of the 32 subjects with below-average contrast responses, only one was not “depressed” thus majority had trouble rating the contrast level of black and white images and were also depressed patients.  The hampered functioning of contrast perceiving retinal cells may be rooted to the fact that some of these interact with dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in emotion and reward systems in the brain. Thus the hypothesis is supported and indicates that color perception is reduced in depressed individuals.
This study seems to give a plausible explanation on why some artists may depict sadness in gray tones. Personally I think this is very true of me. I’ve also done some drawing/sketching myself as another cathartic method of getting some heavy weight off of me. Below are some of the works I have done over the past years. See how much they lack color HAHA! 

A rather gray outlook in life. I sketched this back in 2009 

I sketched this in the same year. Whoa, what was happening to me in 2009? HAHAHA

No wonder people would often say to see the brighter side of things or to look at the world with rose-tinted glasses when things seem hopelessly “gray”.
I am overwhelmed and very much amazed by the findings of this research and I wish to read on more researches that is in line with it. I can only imagine the possibilities!! Brand new alternatives of treating people with depression and improvements on diagnosis are at hand. More of color therapy perhaps? Could allowing some tweaks in retinal performance as to improve the ability to perceive brightness of colors, help in curing Depression? 

Better Color perception = Happier outlook in life perhaps? :)

Friedman, L. F. (2010). Color me depressed: The blues make the world more gray.  Psychology Today, 43(6), 24-24, 1/2 p