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Brain Training Could Help Combat Hearing Loss, Study Suggests

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Contrary to what you might think, the hearing loss that accompanies getting older isn't entirely about your ears. Studies have found that as people get older, the parts of their brain that process speech slow down, and it becomes especially difficult to isolate one voice in a noisy environment. New research suggests there may be a way to help older people hear better: brain training.

The Verge reports that a new double-blind study published in Current Biology suggests that a video game could help older people improve their hearing ability. Though the study was too small to be conclusive, the results are notable in the wake of several large studies in the past few years that found that the brain-training games on apps like Luminosity don't improve cognitive skills in the real world. Most research on brain training games has found that while you might get better at the game, you probably won't be able to translate that skill to your real life.

In the current study, the researchers recruited 24 older adults, all of whom were long-term hearing-aid users, for eight weeks of video game training. The average age was 70. Musical training has been associated with stronger audio perception, so half of the participants were asked to play a game that asked them to identify subtle changes in tones—like you would hear in a piece of music—in order to piece together a puzzle, and the other half played a placebo game designed to test their memory. In the former, as the levels got more difficult, the background noise got louder. The researchers compare the task to a violinist tuning out the rest of the orchestra in order to listen to just their own instrument.

After eight weeks of playing their respective games around three-and-a-half hours a week, the group that played the placebo memory game didn't perform any better on a speech perception test that asked participants to identify sentences or words amid competing voices. But those who played the tone-changing puzzle game saw significant improvement in their ability to process speech in noise conditions close to what you'd hear in an average restaurant. The tone puzzle group were able to accurately identify 25 percent more words against loud background noise than before their training.

The training was more successful for some participants than others, and since this is only one small study, it's possible that as this kind of research progresses, researchers might find a more effective game design for this purpose. But the study shows that in specific instances, brain training games can benefit users. This kind of game can't eliminate the need for hearing aids, but it can help improve speech recognition in situations where hearing aids often fail (e.g., when there is more than one voice speaking). However, once the participants stopped playing the game for a few months, their gains disappeared, indicating that it would have to be a regular practice.

[h/t The Verge]

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Google Maps Is Getting a Makeover With More Icons and Colors
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Prepare to get used to some big changes to your Google Maps app. The tech giant announced in a blog post that it’s changing the tool’s design to better highlight information that’s relevant to your journey.

The first update can be seen when switching between modes of transportation. If you’re driving from your home to work, for example, Maps will show you gas stations along your route, but switch to public transit and train stations will pop up instead.

The app’s color scheme has also been given a makeover. All points of interest (POI) that appear on the map are now color-coded. Looking for the nearest restaurant? Food and drink POI are orange. Need some retail therapy? Shopping icons are blue. Hospitals (pink), churches (gray), outdoor spaces (green), and more are included in the new system.

Within the larger categories, Google has introduced dozens of specialized icons to indicate subcategories. Banks are marked with a dollar sign, cafes with a coffee cup, etc.

“The world is an ever-evolving place,” Google Maps product manager Liz Hunt wrote in the blog post. “Now, we’re updating Google Maps with a new look that better reflects your world, right now.”

This overhaul is the latest way Google Maps is evolving to make life more convenient for its users. In the past year, the app has rolled out features that allow you to locate your parked car and to check how crowded attractions are at certain times. The new design changes will start appearing over the next few weeks.

Phones with maps app open.
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Color key for Google Maps.
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Icons for Google Maps.
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Facebook Just Made It Easier to Tell the Difference Between Fake News and Real Reporting
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On Facebook, fake news stories "reporting" international conflicts over Toblerones can appear alongside fact-checked journalism from trustworthy outlets. This leads to some bogus stories racking up thousands of shares while real news stories are deemed "fake" by those who disagree with them. With its latest news feature, Facebook aims to make the distinction between factual and fictional posts clearer.

As The Verge reports, articles shared on Facebook will now display a "trust indicator" icon. Clicking on it reveals information about the publisher of the piece, including their ethics statement, corrections policy, fact-checking process, ownership structures, and masthead. By providing that context, Facebook hopes that more users will make better decisions about which news outlets to trust and which to disregard.

The social media network is launching the feature with a handful of publishers and plans to open it up to more down the road. But unless it becomes mandatory for all media pages, it won't be the end of Facebook's fake news problem: Phony sites and real publishers that leave this information blank will still look the same in the eyes of some readers. Additionally, the feature only works when people go out of their way to check it, so it requires users to be skeptical in the first place.

If you want to avoid the fake news in your feed, looking for trust indicators is a good place to start. To further sharpen your BS-detecting skills, try adopting the CRAAP system: The American Library Association has been using it to spot sketchy sources since before the Facebook era.

[h/t The Verge]

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