To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Peelle-ing back the layers of cognition and hearing

Brandeis alum Jonathan Peelle M’02, P’05 is one of Northeastern University’s newest faculty members. In his work at Northeastern, he is bringing his expertise in cognitive neuroscience from his former lab—the Peelle lab at Washington University in St. Louis (WashU), according to a news article from Northeastern. 


At Northeastern, Peelle works in The Center for Cognitive and Brain Health. In the Northeastern article, Peele is described to be continuing his previous studies from WashU on hearing and cognition. His research suggests that hearing is related to one’s cognition. “If I can help your hearing, I’m going to help your cognition,” said Peelle in the article. Even mild hearing loss, he explains, causes the brain to work even harder to understand speech and therefore influences cognition. He uses functional brain imaging techniques as a method to measure blood flow changes in individuals with hearing loss and individuals that use cochlear implants. Peelle also uses pupillometry to measure shifts in pupil diameter. These measurements are important because pupil diameter gets larger when people listen to speech that is difficult to follow and causes your brain to work harder. Based on the relationship between hearing and cognition, Peelle intends to determine if hearing aids may be able to help with cognition. “There really have been very few studies showing how much cognitive benefit people have developed from hearing aids,” said Peelle. His move to Northeastern is perfect for this situation as there is a community-based audiology clinic. 


In addition to his research at Northeastern, Peelle co-hosts the podcast “The juice and the squeeze” with Carleton College professor Julia Strand. According to its description, the podcast talks about everything in science spanning from careers in science to giving scientific talks. As of Sept. 1, the podcast is up to 47 episodes after starting in the fall of 2019. The Northeastern article describes how at WashU Peelle also started the podcast “The brain made plain.” In this podcast he gives students exposure to neurosciences. His social media presence extends even beyond his podcasts through his Twitter account that he has had since the platform was created. His account has close to 7500 followers and is full of shared works from other scientists. In the article from Northeastern, Peelle said “I actually found out about the job at Northeastern because one of the other faculty members tweeted about it.”


According to the WashU School of Medicine in St. Louis, his research there focused on the brain’s ability to understand speech and how it is affected by cognitive and hearing changes. There were three main project focuses. One project discusses how the brain reacts to speech that is degraded by a variety of background noises. The results suggest that hearing impairment is related to functional and structural changes in the brain. Another study focuses on how speech comprehension changes over time. As people age the research explains how adults use additional regions of the brain. The last main project looked at the relationship between speech rhythm and listeners ability to process audio efficiently. 


According to Jonathan Peelle’s website, Peelle spent 10 years at WashU before his move to Northeastern. He got his Masters of Arts in cognitive psychology from Brandeis in 2002. After three more years at Brandeis, he got a P.h.D in neuroscience. He was a postdoctoral fellow at Brandeis for one more year before becoming a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. 

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