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Donation Helps Boys Town National Research Hospital in Eye Tracking/Listening Research Project


Tuesday, January 19, 2021

You may have noticed that it is hard to understand what someone is saying when they are wearing a face mask. That's because in face-to-face conversations, seeing a speaker's mouth move usually helps us understand them, especially in noisy places. Understanding speech in background noise is much more challenging for children than adults, and there is variability in children's ability to use visual speech cues, in other words, lipreading.

That's why a donation to purchase a Tobii Pro Nano eye tracker to support research on the subject was so appreciated by Kaylah Lalonde, Director of the Audiovisual Speech Processing Laboratory at Boys Town National Research Hospital.

Lalonde received the donation from an anonymous Boys Town donor about a year ago with the assistance of Boys Town development. The tracker, along with software that has been developed, will assist in planned studies that examine how much children and adults look at a speaker's face while listening to speech in noisy environments and to what parts of the face they look. Lalonde said this will help understand children's listening strategies.

The long-term goals of research in the audiovisual speech perception lab are to provide a unified account of how audiovisual speech perception develops, and ultimately to improve audiovisual communication outcomes for children with hearing loss. Lalonde said children with hearing loss benefit more from visual speech cues than children with normal hearing.

The eye tracker will be used to explore how much age- and hearing-related differences in audiovisual benefit observed in speech perception studies might be due to differences in looking behavior.

“Specifically, we will conduct standard auditory and audiovisual speech recognition tests while collecting data about whether and where participants look at or on the screen," Lalonde said. “The study will look at a variety of different age and hearing groups. With eye tracking data, we will determine the extent to which differences in looking behaviors among children explain individual, age-related and hearing-related differences in audiovisual benefit."

The eye tracker will serve as a control in future experiments in the lab. It will also serve as a tool for testing young children and infants without requiring overt responses. In future research, it will be used for more detailed studies of visual attention during audiovisual speech perception.

Lalonde said thanks to donations like this, Boys Town Hospital is able to continue its advances in studying how children tie together hearing with visual cues.

“Donations like this are important to Boys Town, because they allow us to be innovative in our research approach and support our goal of improving outcomes for children with communication difficulties," she said.