Josh McDermott is a perceptual scientist who studies sound and hearing. Operating at the intersection of psychology, neuroscience and engineering, McDermott has made groundbreaking discoveries about how people hear and interpret information from sound in order to make sense of the world around them. His long-term goals are to improve treatments for those whose hearing is impaired, and to enable the design of machine systems that mirror human abilities to interpret sound.
Humans are able to focus on particular sounds despite background noise, a feat that remains difficult for even the most advanced machine audition systems, and that is highly vulnerable to impairment. To better understand the basis of such abilities, McDermott studies what naturally occurring sounds are made of. He pioneered the study of sound texture and introduced the idea that sound can be expressed through statistical representations. He also conducted the first large-scale statistical analysis of reverberation, revealing that human listeners use regularities of reverb in order to distinguish echoes from objects that generate sound. To characterize the neural circuits underlying hearing, his lab builds computational models and conducts neuroimaging experiments in humans.
In parallel, McDermott studies music perception. His lab studies the perceptual abilities that allow us to appreciate music, their basis in the brain, and their variation across cultures. As he explains it “music also provides great examples of many interesting phenomena in hearing, and as such, is a constant source of inspiration for basic hearing research.”
Josh McDermott joined the McGovern Institute as an associate investigator in 2018. He obtained his PhD from MIT and as a postdoc studied psychoacoustics at the University of Minnesota and then computational neuroscience at NYU. He joined the MIT faculty in 2013. He is the recipient of a Marshall Scholarship, a James S. McDonnell Foundation Scholar Award, and an NSF CAREER Award. He won the 2018 Troland Research Award, which recognizes unusual achievement by young investigators within the broad spectrum of experimental psychology.