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Hearing

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Hearing

Have you ever had water stuck in your ear and all of a sudden you were not able to hear well out of that ear? This is called conductive hearing loss, and luckily it's completely reversible!

But even in that brief moment, you may have experienced how frustrating hearing loss can be.

  • What parts of the brain are involved with hearing?
  • Why is hearing important?
  • How does hearing work?
  • What are hearing experiments in psychology?

The Definition of Hearing

Hearing is one of the five senses. It is extremely important to the survival of our species. Hearing allows us to detect danger when other senses are diminished, such as at night when our vision is low. Hearing is defined as the ability to sense and process sounds in our environment. Like the other senses, hearing serves adaptable, evolutionary purposes.

Dogs have a very keen nose, but at best dogs only have around 20/75 eyesight! This means that what a human can see at 75 feet, a dog can only see at 20 feet. Their sense of smell makes up for the lack of vision capabilities.

What if your hearing isn't working properly? Deafness affects nearly 600,000 people in the US. Close to 30 million people aged 12 years or older experience hearing loss. Unilateral hearing loss or deafness is hearing loss in one ear. Bilateral hearing loss or deafness is hearing loss in both ears. Problems with hearing can occur anywhere within the auditory system: in the eardrum, the main nerve, or the brain stem and cortex. The two main types of hearing loss are conductive hearing loss, and sensorineural hearing loss.

The main nerve involved in hearing is the vestibulocochlear nerve, also called cranial nerve 8. It contains the nerve needed for balance as well as the nerve which transmits sound information.

Conductive hearing loss refers to hearing loss related to the outer and middle ear. This type of hearing loss can sometimes be corrected with surgery. Sensorineural hearing loss usually happens after damage to the inner ear. This is a common cause of permanent hearing loss. Presbycusis, or hearing loss related to age, is usually a sensorineural hearing loss disorder. There are many common causes of hearing loss including trauma, neurologic disease, aging, developmental disease, and more.

Hearing definition of hearing StudySmarterThe Outer Ear, pixabay.com

The Importance of Hearing

Hearing is essential for a whole host of social activities, and it plays an important role in keeping us safe. It is still possible to communicate with others if you are deaf, but it is definitely easier with the ability to hear sounds! Participating in team environments and maintaining relationships is more difficult without hearing, especially in environments where people do not know sign language.

Sign language is a method of communication that does not require producing sounds or listening. This language allows the deaf to communicate through hand motions, signs, and body gestures.

Recent studies indicate that hearing loss, especially later in life, may be associated with an increased risk for dementia. Individuals with a hearing loss greater than 25 decibels (dB) were at increased risk of developing dementia, and those with moderate to severe loss are 5x more likely to develop dementia. Decibels (dB) are the units in which sound is measured. Decibels are measured in groups of 10s. An increase of 10 means a sound will be 10 times louder: 20 dB is 10 times louder than 10 dB.

Some examples of common sounds and their dBs:

  • Breathing = 10 dBs
  • Speaking = 50 dBs
  • Train = 100 dBs
  • Fireworks = 150 dBs

The Hearing Process

The hearing process is beautifully complex. The ear's anatomical structures work together to produce hearing. The hearing process can be broken down into six steps. A problem with any of these steps can lead to hearing loss.

Think about the branch of a tree breaking, a person hearing the sound of the branch breaking, and the person understanding that they are next to a branch that is breaking. From there, they will hopefully also recognize that they are in danger and run away!

The Anatomy of the Ear

Before we look at the six steps of hearing, you need to know the different parts of the ear. The ear has three sections: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. The outer ear includes the pinna, auditory canal, and tympanic membrane. Deformities with the pinna, blockages within the auditory canals, or problems with the tympanic membrane can all cause problems with hearing.

The pinna is the ear itself, or the part of your ear that you can touch. The auditory canal is the part of the ear that extends from the hole on the outside of your ear all the way inside to the eardrum. The tympanic membrane is also known as the eardrum. This is a tight but flexible membrane that vibrates with sound.

The middle ear contains the structures necessary for conduction and amplification. In the middle ear, there are three structures called ossicles: the three bones of the middle ear. Conduction in hearing is the process of transmitting sound to be processed by the inner ear. Amplification is the process of making something louder or increasing its amplitude. When you are screaming, the sound has a high amplitude.

Amplifiers are pieces of electrical equipment that increase the loudness of sounds, such as the sound of a guitar, drums, or a person's voice.

The inner ear is made up of the cochlea: a fluid-filled structure that resembles a snail shell. This structure takes the vibrations created by the eardrum and conducts them over to the ossicles. The ossicles then transmit the sound to the auditory nerve. Frequency relates to the pitch of a sound (how high or low it is). Someone with a low voice speaks at a low frequency, and someone with a high pitched voice speaks at a high frequency.

Hearing the hearing process StudySmarterEar anatomy, pixabay.com

The Six Steps in the Hearing Process

Now that you know the different parts of the ear, you are ready to learn the six steps of the hearing process!

  1. Sound travels from the environment into the ear canal, causing the tympanic membrane (or the eardrum) to vibrate.
  2. The eardrum vibrates according to the frequency and amplitude of the sound wave.
  3. The sound is sent over to the ossicles, which are the boney structures in the middle ear.
  4. After the sound vibrations are transferred through the boney structures, the vibrations are picked up by the fluid in the cochlea. This causes the sound waves to travel even further into the ear.
  5. Deep inside the ear, the vibrations are picked up by small specialized hair cells that line the semicircular canals. The location of each of the hair cells usually determines which kind of sound they can detect. Hair cells at one end of the cochlea can pick up higher frequency sounds than the hair cells on the other end of the cochlea.
  6. The vibrations arrive at the auditory nerve. The nerve picks up the signal and transmits it to the brain where it is processed and perceived.

Let's use a conversation as an example. The sound from someone's mouth enters your ears, guided by the shape of your ear into the ear canal. Then that sound causes the eardrum to vibrate, which is then conducted by the ossicles. It is sent to the cochlea where it is picked up by specialized cells and transmitted to the auditory nerve for processing.

Perception and Hearing

For those of us who are able to hear sounds, we are able to figure out information about our environment through hearing perception. Just being able to hear sounds isn't enough for us to make sense of them. Perception is processing the information we receive, and drawing conclusions based on that information.

A firefighter running into a burning building hears someone call for help. It is the brain's perception of the sound that makes them realize someone is in need of help!

After the hearing process takes place, our brain still needs to tell us what we are hearing. The transmitted vibrations travel up from the auditory nerve to the brain stem for processing. We can't know what we're hearing without our brain's perception abilities! The sound travels from the brain stem up to the thalamus and finally to the temporal lobe of the brain. The temporal lobe houses the auditory cortex.

There are certain things we can figure out about sound once it reaches the brain. First, we have the ability to figure out where the sound is coming from. We usually tell if a sound is coming from far away, up close, above, below, or behind us. This helps protect us and gives us time to react to our environment.

We can also focus on and distinguish certain sounds over others. In a busy stadium, we can easily have a conversation with the person sitting next to us, despite the near-constant background noise. In this circumstance, we are basically able to block out the noise that we don't want to hear and only focus on the noise that is important to the thing we are doing at that time.

Hearing Experiments in Psychology

Psychologists really like to study hearing. A psychological hearing experiment that involved something called the dichotic listening task demonstrated the human ability to selectively pay attention to certain sounds while ignoring others. We can ignore sounds coming into our right ear while paying attention to sounds coming into our left ear. The dichotic listening task involves listening to two different sounds in both ears and only paying attention to one.

Having headphones on, with one headphone playing a podcast and the other playing an opera, is an example of the dichotic listening task.

There are two clinical tests that doctors use to detect hearing loss. They are called the Weber test and the Rinne test. Both of these tests use a vibrating tuning fork to figure out which kind of hearing loss the person is experiencing: conductive or sensorineural.

The Weber test involves using a tuning fork and asking the patient which side they hear the sound louder on. The sound will localize to a specific ear in patients with conductive or sensorineural hearing loss. No localization indicates either bilateral hearing loss, or no hearing loss. The Rinne test involves using a tuning fork and asking the patient whether the sound persists longer than it should.

Hearing is an important part of many famous psychological experiments. It plays a really important role in the study of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Loud sounds can trigger negative responses in people suffering from PTSD. In addition, certain psychotic disorders involve "hearing" things that are not really there. Studies about hearing have led to some very interesting findings!

Hearing - Key Takeaways

  • Hearing is defined as the ability to sense and process sounds in our environment.
  • Deafness affects nearly 600,000 people in the US. Close to 30 million people aged 12 years or older experience hearing loss.
  • Decibels (dB) are the units in which sound is measured. Decibels are measured in groups of 10s. An increase of 10 means a sound will be 10 times louder: 20 dB is 10 times louder than 10 dB.
  • Conduction in hearing is the process of transmitting sound to be processed by the inner ear. Amplification is the process of making something louder, or increasing its amplitude.
  • Frequency relates to the pitch of a sound (how high or low it is). Someone with a low voice speaks at a low frequency, and someone with a high-pitched voice speaks at a high frequency.

Frequently Asked Questions about Hearing

The cranial nerve involved in hearing is cranial nerve 8, also known as the vestibulocochlear nerve.  

Many areas of the brain are involved in hearing. However, the main parts are cranial nerve 8, the brain stem, and the auditory cortex.   

The four types of hearing loss are sensorineural hearing loss, conductive hearing loss, mixed type hearing loss, and auditory neuropathy spectrum disorder hearing loss. 

Yes, the ear is important to hearing. The ear plays a role in allowing the brain to determine where a sound is coming from. It also funnels sound into the eardrum.  

The dichotic hearing task is a psychological experiment where participants are asked to listen to two separate stimuli; they ignore one of the stimuli while focusing on the other. 


Final Hearing Quiz

Question

How many people does hearing loss affect in the USA?

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Answer

600,000.

Show question

Question

What is the definition of hearing?

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Answer

Hearing is defined as the ability to sense, and process sounds in our environment.

Show question

Question

How many types of hearing loss are there?

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Answer

4 but there are 2 main types. Conductive and Sensorineural. 

Show question

Question

Which disease are people with hearing loss more likely to develop?

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Answer

Dementia. 

Show question

Question

How many steps are there to the hearing process?

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Answer

6

Show question

Question

What is the first step of the hearing process?

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Answer

Sound travels from the environment into the ear canal and causes vibration of the tympanic membrane also known as the eardrum.

Show question

Question

What is the second step in the hearing process?

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Answer

 The eardrum will vibrate according to the frequency and amplitude of the sound wave. 

Show question

Question

What is the third step of the hearing process?

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Answer

The sound then is transferred through the ossicles which are the boney structures in the middle ear made up of the incus, malleus, and stapes. 

Show question

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What is the fourth step of the hearing process?

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Answer

After the sound vibrations are transferred through the boney structure these vibrations are then picked up by the fluid in the cochlea which further transmits the vibration waves further into the ear.

Show question

Question

What is the fifth step of the hearing process?

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Answer

These vibrations are then picked up by small specialized hair cells which line the semicircular canals. The location of each of the hair cells usually determines which kind of sound they will transmit. 

Show question

Question

What is the sixth step of the hearing process? 

Show answer

Answer

Finally, the auditory nerve (cranial nerve 8 vestibulocochlear nerve) takes the signal and transmits it to the brain where it is processed and perceived.

Show question

Question

Hair cells that pick up high frequency sounds are located in the _____.

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Answer

Base

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Question

Hair cells that pick up low frequency sounds are located in the _____.


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Answer

Apex.

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Question

What are the two ways sound is localized?

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Answer

Monaural and Binaural. 

Show question

Question

What is the dichotic listening task? 

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Answer

A task in which the user has to ignore auditory stimulation in one ear and give attention to a different auditory stimulation in the other. 

Show question

Question

What are the two tests used to differentiate between the two main types of hearing loss?

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Answer

Weber and Rinnes. 

Show question

Question

What type of hearing loss is hearing loss in one ear? 

Show answer

Answer

Unilateral Hearing Loss

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Question

What type of hearing loss is hearing loss in both ears?  

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Answer

Bilateral Hearing Loss 

Show question

Question

What type of hearing loss is hearing loss related to the outer and middle ear?

Show answer

Answer

Conductive Hearing Loss 

Show question

Question

What type of hearing loss is hearing loss that usually happens after damage to the inner ear?

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Answer

Sensorineural Hearing Loss 

Show question

Question

True or False: The main nerve involved in hearing is the vestibulocochlear nerve, also called the cranial nerve 8.

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

Question

Select the TWO main types of hearing loss: 

(Choose 2 options) 

Show answer

Answer

Conductive Hearing Loss

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Question

True or False: Presbycusis is hearing loss related to age. 

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

Question

Which type of hearing loss can "sometimes" be corrected with surgery? 

Show answer

Answer

Conductive Hearing Loss 

Show question

Question

True or False: Sign language is a method of communication that does not require producing sounds or listening. 

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank: _________ are the units in which sound is measured. 

Show answer

Answer

Decibels 

Show question

Question

True or False: Decibels are measured in groups of 10s. 

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

Question

How many sections does the ear have? 

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Answer

Three 

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Question

Which section of the ear includes the pinna, auditory canal, and tympanic membrane? 

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Answer

The Outer Ear 

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Question

Which part of the ear is also known as the "eardrum" 

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Answer

Tympanic Membrane 

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Question

Which part of the ear extends from the hole on the outside of your ear all the way inside to the eardrum? 

Show answer

Answer

Auditory Canal 

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Question

Which section of the ear includes the three bones referred to as ossicles? 

Show answer

Answer

The Middle Ear 

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Question

Which section of the ear contains the structures necessary for conduction and amplification?

Show answer

Answer

The Middle Ear 

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Question

Which section of the ear made up of the cochlea?

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Answer

The Inner Ear 

Show question

Question

Which part of the ear is a fluid-filled structure that resembles a snail shell? 

Show answer

Answer

Cochlea 

Show question

Question

Which structure takes the vibrations created by the eardrum and conducts them over to the ossicles?  


Show answer

Answer

Cochlea 

Show question

Question

Which hearing test involves using a tuning fork and asking the patient which side they hear the sound louder on? 

Show answer

Answer

The Weber Test 

Show question

Question

Which hearing test involves using a tuning fork and asking the patient whether the sound persists longer than it should? 

Show answer

Answer

The Rinne Test 

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank: __________ in hearing is the process of transmitting sound to be processed by the inner ear.  

Show answer

Answer

Conduction 

Show question

Question

True or False: Amplification is the process of making something louder, or increasing its amplitude.

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

Question

True or False: Someone with a low voice speaks at a low frequency, and someone with a high-pitched voice speaks at a high frequency. 

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

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