The inside scoop: hearing sensitivity with Kaveh Kiani

by | Dec 17, 2020 | Hearing Aura, Hearing Gains, Social Spaces

We often talk about different noises and how they affect us but did you know that categorising people based on how sensitive we are to sounds could change the way we think about social settings? 

Thanks to the University of Salford and Eden Smith’s Group’s Nurture Programme, we were able to work with data science student Kaveh Kiani – who will soon join us full-time at Mumbli as a data scientist – to analyse different people’s personal responses to social spaces in London. The aim was to see how we could categorise people into different hearing sensitivity groups to make socialising more pleasant. In this way, we hope to enable people  to pick venues based on their needs and preferences for working, dating or socialising with friends. 

We chatted to Kaveh about his project and why grouping people is so important for the future of sound and socialising!

Karishma Prasad on reverberation time

Q: Can you give us a bit more detail about your project? 

I’ve tried to create a method for how to advise people on finding their best ‘venue-vibe’ for different social activities. Mumbli has a two-sided strategy to maximise hearing gains –: working with people’s individual hearing profiles and working with venues’ soundscapes. In this project, I’ve focused on developing a solution to the human side. 

I created an algorithm to provide users with the best venues based on different hearing sensitivity groups. I did this by testing different hypotheses to explore ways of grouping people, which provided a more in-depth understanding of the information I had gathered. 

Q: How do you think your research will help with how we’ll interact in future? 

Hearing reduction is the most recognised hearing complication. However, there are many other hearing conditions we don’t place as much focus on. Mumbli focuses on innovating the combination of technology and the holistic approach to alter the term ‘hearing loss’ to ‘Hearing Gains’. Hearing reduction isn’t seen as important compared to other health problems – like eyesight sensitivity and visual impairment – which is something Mumbli wants to change.

Since our hearing profiles fall on a spectrum, we must start to interact with our surroundings more wisely. Quite often, people experience negativity towards sounds – stress, anxiety and irritation – but don’t alter their exposure to sounds to fit their preferences. 

By grouping people according to their hearing sensitivity, we can inform them about where they fit on this spectrum from non-sensitive to highly sensitive. This is the first step on the path to assist Mumbli users to maximise their hearing experience. 

Q: Were you excited to work on this project? 

I’ve been researching for most of my professional life but it never crossed my mind to do a simple study on hearing sensitivity. After starting the research, I realised that even though I would have considered myself a ‘non-sensitive’ person, I also have preferences for places that I didn’t realise. 

In our research, we didn’t have a single person that was completely non-sensitive to sound. This was exciting because it showed me how crucial this research could be for society and changing the outlook on hearing wellness. 

Q: Are there any tips you could give venue owners to help them make their space less noisy and more suitable for those sensitive to noise? 

A venue owner is often more focused on the quality of the food and drink, or how the venue is decorated, rather than the noise level. But they can make some changes to accommodate people with noise sensitivity: maintaining the music level, keeping doors and windows shut or using double glazing to reduce outdoor noises will all help. 

The material of the furniture, walls, flooring and ceiling can also help control the reverberation time, which Mumbli has done independent research on. Asking customers to speak quieter and not arranging tables too close to one another may help too. 

Q: What was your most surprising discovery? 

It was surprising to me that around 25% of people are suffering with DST (decreased sound tolerance) disorders in different forms. This shows that society should care more about this aspect of our wellbeing because so many people suffer with these. 

The relationship between gender and age with DST is very interesting too. I found that women are more sensitive to human sounds however, men and women are equally affected by loudness. For example women will feel more uncomfortable when they hear other people chewing but both men and women will be equally affected by ambulance sirens. 

I also concluded from my data that sensitive people prefer calmer vibes and less noise for work-related activities. But, when it comes to dating, everything changes! They act like less sensitive people. It’s hard to say why this is but perhaps there is a psychological explanation for this phenomenon!

As you can see, Kaveh’s research has been great at shedding light on just how important changing society’s approach to sound is. So many people are affected by varying degrees of sound sensitivity! We can’t wait to put Kaveh’s research into practise, helping people to find venues that are designed for their sound preferences. 

Don’t forget to take our hearing personality test to figure out the social spaces that fit your sound preferences.

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