UCL Ear Institute


An online headphone screening test based on dichotic pitch

14 December 2020

A new study by UCL Ear Institute researchers has found an effective method to check that participants in online experiments are using their headphones when it’s a requirement for the study.

Headphone image

 The results of the research carried out by Alice Milne, Roberta Bianco, Sijia Zhao, Alex Billig, Kat Poole and Maria Chait along with Andrew Oxenham from the University of Minnesota have a wide-ranging application for anyone who is undertaking online experiments with an audio component. Given that many research institutions still find it difficult to have participants in due to social distancing restrictions, the results of the study are very timely.
The researchers devised a screening test that can only be passed when listeners can hear different sounds at each ear, through the two independent headphone channels.
Commenting on the work, first author Alice Milne says: 

Running experiments online has many advantages such as being a fast way to collect data, as well as allowing us to reach different groups of people. Due to the pandemic, this type of testing became not only an option, but a necessity.

As researchers who are trying to understand more about how the brain processes sounds, we needed a way to check that our online listeners are in fact using headphones. The new method we have developed takes just a few minutes to deliver and has better sensitivity than previous headphone screening tests.”
The publication itself contains links allowing other researchers to implement the screening in their own experiments.