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The Leverhulme Trust has awarded Goldsmiths and The University of Salford £2.2 million to lead a ground-breaking initiative aimed at redefining our understanding of hearing.
The Leverhulme Trust Aural Diversity Doctoral Research Hub (LAURA) will impact the 1.4 billion globally who hear things differently because of age, noise or disease by challenging the binary classification of “normal” and “impaired”.
Led by Professor John Drever, whose research work was instrumental in coining the phrase aural diversity, and Professor Daniel Müllensiefen at Goldsmiths with Professor Bill Davies from the University of Salford's Acoustics Research Centre, the hub will also train 25 doctoral scholars, researching the rich terrain of aural experiences while bridging the gap between academia, community, policy makers, and industry to enhance the auditory environment for everyone.
Current audio measurement and safety standards assume an auraltypical person who simply doesn’t exist, it means that millions of people face barriers to access and engagement which in some cases be seriously debilitating to their mental and well-being.
John Drever, Professor of Acoustic Ecology and Sound Art Head of the Unit for Sound Practice Research (SPR)
LAURA aims both to address hearing impairments and to explore perceptual differences such as tinnitus and misophonia. It will also investigate atypical sound processing experienced by neurodivergent individuals and those with cognitive differences like dementia. The project challenges the binary classification of ‘normal’ and ‘impaired’ hearing, advocating for a more nuanced understanding of aural diversity. As Professor Bill Davies explains:
“The concept of aural diversity reflects the fact that hearing is a lived and embodied experience for most people, with complexity and fluctuation over time. We are bringing together a unique interdisciplinary group of researchers interested in hearing, from acoustics and psychology to music and social science.
“Our aim is to explore how musicians, theatre directors and sound engineers might make performances for an aurally diverse audience, how architects and planners might design buildings and cities for a range of hearing types, and what all our devices – from kettles to cars – might sound like if we allow that everyone hears differently.”
LAURA is one of only 11 programmes funded across all disciplines in the UK by the Leverhulme Trust in this year’s round of funding. It marks the first time both the University of Salford and Goldsmiths, University of London, have successfully secured funding from the Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarships scheme.
Professor Davies continued:“The University of Salford has been delivering world-leading research in acoustics for over six decades, and to achieve this funding is a huge boost for us that means we can explore these new ideas about experience of sound, challenge preconceptions about hearing, and ultimately contribute to a world where the richness of aural experiences is embraced. We are grateful for the support from the Leverhulme Trust and look forward to making impactful strides in understanding and enhancing the diverse tapestry of human hearing.”
The Leverhulme grant will consolidate existing research at Goldsmiths Music Department and the Music, Mind and Brain research in our Psychology Department. John and I are thrilled to be collaborating with Salford and working together to level the playing field for aural diverse people, in a move that is long overdue.
Daniel Müllensiefen, Professor of Psychology