University of Salford and Goldsmiths, University of London secure £2.2 million funding for groundbreaking aural diversity research

Categories: Research, School of Science, Engineering and Environment

The University of Salford, in collaboration with Goldsmiths, University of London, has been awarded up to £2.2 million in funding for a groundbreaking initiative aimed at advancing research in hearing.

The project, titled the Leverhulme Trust Aural Diversity Doctoral Research Hub (LAURA), has secured funding through the Leverhulme Trust’s Doctoral Scholarships programme and aims to redefine the understanding of hearing by encompassing the entire spectrum of aural experiences.

It will be led by Professor Bill Davies from the University of Salford's Acoustics Research Centre and co-directed by Professor John Drever at Goldsmiths Department of Music and Professor Daniel Müllensiefen in its Department of Psychology’s Music, Mind and Body research team. The hub will also train 25 doctoral scholars, who will research the rich terrain of aural experiences, bridging the gap between academia, community, policy makers, and industry to enhance the auditory environment for everyone.

Hearing differences, whether due to age, noise, or disease, impact at least 1.4 billion people globally. LAURA aims to not only address hearing impairments but also explore perceptual differences such as tinnitus and misophonia, as well as 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.

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.

“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.”

Acoustics student in the anechoic chamber

The project will bring together Salford’s School of Science, Engineering and Environment with the School of Health and Society and the School of Arts, Media and Creative Technology to look at aural diversity from truly interdisciplinary perspectives.

Professor Drever, whose research work was instrumental in coining the phrase aural diversity, said: “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. The Leverhulme grant will consolidate existing research at Goldsmiths Music Department and the Music, Mind and Brain research in our Psychology Department. 

“Professor Müllensiefen and I are thrilled to be collaborating with Salford and working together to level the playing field for aural diverse people, a move that is long overdue.”

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.

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