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Wright discusses how auditory learning becomes permanent—or is disrupted

More than 50 guests attended the annual Pepper Lecture hosted by the Roxelyn and Richard Pepper Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders on May 3 featuring 2010 Pepper Lecturer Beverly Wright. Wright is a professor of communication sciences and disorders in the School of Communication and director of the Hugh Knowles Center for Clinical and Basic Science in Hearing and its Disorders.

Among those in the audience were Roxelyn and Richard Pepper, whose support of the department and school funds the annual lecture, among other projects.

Wright's talk, "Auditory Perceptual Learning Across the Lifespan," focused on the factors that drive and prevent perceptual learning on auditory skills, including how those factors change with age and are affected by sensory and cognitive disorders. Knowledge of these issues will lead to more effective training strategies to help restore auditory abilities in people with hearing disorders as well as to enhance those skills in individuals with normal hearing.

"We can learn how to become more sensitive to differences between sounds," Wright explained. "We're trying to figure out the circumstances that allow those changes to occur—or prevent them from occurring."

Annual Pepper LectureWright centered her presentation around the two primary learning phases: the "acquisition phase," which is the time an individual spends actually practicing a skill, and the "consolidation phase," which lasts for hours to days after training ends and is the time when the "learning is actually becoming permanent." She described data obtained by her research group showing that it is possible to enhance or disrupt auditory learning during both the acquisition and consolidation phases, depending on how the training is delivered.

Wright earned her doctorate in experimental psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Florida and the University of California San Francisco. She has been a visiting scientist in the Department of Experimental Psychology at Oxford University, England, and in the Center for Neural Science at New York University. Wright is a fellow of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA). She is a recipient of the R. Bruce Lindsay Award (from ASA) and the Clarence Simon Award for Outstanding Teaching and Mentoring from the School of Communication at Northwestern. Her research interests include auditory perceptual learning, auditory perception in individuals with language and listening disorders, and psychoacoustics.