Inside each of our heads is a signal processing system so advanced that the sum of human effort has so far failed to match its capabilities: the human brain can focus on one sound source while tuning out the cacophony of daily life, effortlessly solving the so-called “cocktail party problem.” In the Maddox lab we are trying to figure out how we accomplish this, and what is going wrong in people who lack this ability.
This process, called “selective attention,” is easy to take for granted but is remarkably complex: it involves precise neural coding of extremely fine acoustic information, integration of cues from the visual system, and two-way flow of information between a number of cortical and subcortical areas. Our lab uses psychophysics (measuring behavior) and electroencephalography (measuring electric potentials on the scalp corresponding to brain activity) together in human subjects to investigate selective attention. Our research interests are broad and rely on an interplay between basic science, clinical/translational work, and methods development. By taking this approach, we hope to answer fundamental questions about how humans navigate their noisy auditory world and help those who struggle by improving diagnostic and assistive technologies.