The Basics of Human Hearing
Unlike your other senses, like smell and taste, hearing is based on the physical movement of body parts to function. Read this article to learn about how your hearing works.
In order to understand how your ears turn sound into something you can actually hear, you’ll need to know how objects create sound. When anything, anywhere vibrates, it moves the air around it. As the air particles are moved, they move other air particles and the sound travels in a wave. The pitch of a sound is determined by how fast or slow those vibrations occur. When something has a lower pitch, there are a small number of vibrations that occur. When a sound has a high pitch, there are many vibrations in a short period. Your ear picks up these sound waves and turns them into an electrical signal your brain can translate.
Your ears are shaped the way they are so it’s easier for you to determine where the sound is coming from. When a sound is coming from the side, it will bounce around your outer ear in a different way than it would if the sound was originating from behind you. You may not know it, but you can tell the difference in the way the sound bounces.
When those sounds enter your ear, they travel down the ear canal. At the end of the canal is the ear drum. This works in the same way any other drum works – with vibrations. When a sound wave hits your ear drum, the drum vibrates in a very specific way.
The sound is then amplified by three small bones commonly known as ‘the hammer’, ‘the anvil’ and ‘the stirrup’.
Finally, the sound waves make it to the cochlea. The cochlea is a spiral-shaped structure that is lined with cilia. The cilia are tiny hairs that move and turn the waves into electrical signals. Those electrical signals are now in a form that your brain can understand. The cilia hairs can be flattened for various reasons and are no longer able to translate sound. This happens when sounds are too loud for a short or extended period of time, and results in deafness.
The human ear is a complex mechanism, and this is a basic rundown of how human hearing works. Remember to take care of your ears, so you’ll be able to hear all those wonderful sounds well into old age.