The University of Salford, in collaboration with Goldsmiths, University of London, UK, 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, have an impact on at least 1.4 billion people globally. LAURA aims not only to address hearing impairments but also to explore perceptual differences such as tinnitus and misophonia, as well as atypical sound processing experienced by neurodivergent individuals and those with cognitive differences such as dementia. The project challenges the binary classification of ‘normal’ and ‘impaired’ hearing, advocating for a more nuanced understanding of aural diversity. 

“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,” said Prof Davies. 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. 

Prof Drever, whose research work was instrumental in coining the phrase aural diversity, added: “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. 

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.