What is your area of research?
Emmanuel Ponceau: I am a hearing researcher. It is an interdisciplinary field in nature, from acoustics to neuroscience. The discipline that I place at the center of my research is psychophysics, which offers a formal framework for deciphering the relationship between acoustic stimulation parameters and behavioral response, reflecting human perception.
I am interested in auditory processing of complex acoustic signals such as speech or music. These therapies range from encoding the acoustic characteristics of a signal at a sensory level to cognitive processes that allow us to extract high-level information from it. Thus, in the case of speech, I study the auditory mechanisms that ensure its intelligibility in difficult listening conditions, for example, in a situation cocktail party, and I’m also interested in cognitive representations that lead us, for example, to perceive a person as more or less trustworthy simply on the basis of the sound of his voice and the musicality of his speech. In particular, I seek to understand how and why these interpretations and representations differ from person to person. This work is being done in the laboratory on healthy people with a clinically normal hearing profile, as well as in the clinic on subjects with various pathologies such as sensorineural impairments or brain lesions.
What were you doing before joining CNRS? Why did you choose CNRS ?
EP: After a career as a generalist engineer, my passion for sound and music led me to write a dissertation in psychoacoustics at STMS. This experience gave me a taste for fundamental research that has never left me since then, and opened me up to the fascinating world of human sensory sciences. Therefore, I decided to continue my work on this topic with several doctoral theses in France and Belgium in various disciplines, from cognitive science to electrophysiology. This interdisciplinary course introduced me to a variety of scientific methods and tools that today enable me to explore the mechanics of human hearing through a variety of lenses.
Two specific points prompted me to decide to join the CNRS: on the one hand, the greater freedom to choose research questions, and on the other hand, the collaborative aspect of research work allowed for a long period of time. .
First of all, intellectual freedom: interest in the most fundamental questions without having to consider them in an applied perspective in the short or medium term. In other words, the freedom to delve into the question at the edge of knowledge out of pure intellectual curiosity, without the restrictions imposed by possible side effects of applications that would be identified a priori. This concept of research by no means precludes also spending time on innovative application development: on the contrary, by following its own process and path, it often allows applications to appear that were originally unthinkable.
Secondly, the opportunity to lead a long-term project bringing together various talented people, freely chosen: pooling skills, from the laboratory to collaboration between teams located in the most remote corners of the globe, to follow a path open to question over a period of time until this relevant. Whether research is fundamental or applied, I see it as a great collective human enterprise driven by curiosity and the intellectual emulsion that results from interaction, not as isolated work motivated by competition between individuals or research groups.
I believe it was these aspects that shaped the identity of CNRS and it was this that made me turn to this institution without hesitation rather than to other research organizations or engineering professions that my initial training may have destined me more naturally for. . Therefore, I am attentive to changes in the structure and work of the institution, as well as in the national and international research landscape: how to succeed in adhering to these guidelines in an era of funding short-term projects built around individuals, not teams?
What inspired you to get into computer science and/or digital sciences?
EP: My research path quickly led me to develop an approach that systematically combines computational modeling with human experimentation in the lab. While writing my dissertation, I discovered the method of “inverse correlation” – a system engineering method, the purpose of which is to develop a model for filtering the system from random disturbances superimposed on the measurements of the input signal of interest, which, when applied to human hearing, offers a characteristic whose richness has nothing in common with more traditional experimental methods stemming from experimental psychology. Collaboration with researchers in the field of signal processing allowed me to expand the scope of its application from psychophysics to speech recognition.
I believe that this computer component is now an integral part of my identity as a hearing researcher. I am convinced that the computational approach to human auditory perception, due to its formal structure, favors translational and clinical developments. Indeed, this approach allows parallels to be drawn with work in animal models, even if they are based on radically different experimental techniques, and provides an opportunity to test new signal processing tools for diagnosing and correcting hearing loss that target latent parameters. main biological methods of treatment.