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You Hear With Your Brain, Not Your Ears

You Hear With Your Brain, Not Your Ears

From detecting the simplest sounds, to performing the most complex listening activities, your brain is responsible for making sense of everything you hear.Of course, you need your ears to capture sounds, but you only understand these sounds once they arrive in your brain. So hearing – and especially speech understanding – is a cognitive process, not a mechanical one. Read on to understand why this is so.

The ear-to-brain mechanics

The general function of the 3 parts to the ear is to deliver meaningful sounds to the brain for processing and deriving a meaningful understanding out of it. The outer ears collect air particles and deliver it to the middle ears. 3 tiny bones transmit that sound as mechanical energy and send it to the inner ears, which turn it into hydraulic energy.  The inner earsare connected to the auditory nerve, which ultimately converts the sound into electrical impulses and transmits them to the brain.

The 10 step hearing process

  1. When we hear a sound, the sound waves travel into our ear canal and eardrum through the air
  2. This sound produces vibrations in the eardrum
  3. These vibrations travel to the three tiny bones (malleus, incus and stapes) in the middle ear
  4. Sound vibrations are amplified by the bones
  5. Amplified vibrations are sent to the cochlea
  6. An elastic divide (or basilar membrane) splits the cochlea into the upper and lower parts
  7. Moving waves form along the basilar membrane when vibrations caused in the cochlea cause the fluid to ripple
  8. Sensory cells (or hair cells) located on top of the basilar membrane ride the wave
  9. Due to the up and down movement of the hair cells, microscopic hair-like projections (or stereocilia) begin to bend as they bump into each other
  10. This bending opens up channels that release chemicals and send signals to the brain, where the sound is processed and we’re able to hear

Good hearing requires your ears to pick up all the sounds, so that your brain can decode the message for understanding. But when your brain does not get the right sounds to work with, it takes intense effort to extract meaning from partial sounds available.

Hence, if there are any problems with the transmission of sound at the ear level, the brain will not get the complete information to decode for understanding, and it ends up working hard to fill the gap in sounds.

Now that you know that the brain is responsible for hearing, you must also know that it is the human brain (and not the ear) that must be blamed for any sort of auditory processing disorders. Your ears might still be delivering electrical signals to the brain. It is your brain that faces troubles processing them into recognizable sounds. Such a situation usually occurs due to ageing, untreated hearing loss or structural abnormalities – all of which cause auditory deprivation. Alterations in the auditory processing can complicate the hearing process for those already suffering from hearing impairment. One of the most common causes of Tinnitus (or ringing in the ears) is believed to be associated with the brain. The neurons present in the brain tend to misfire, leading to a false perception of sound. This is why Tinnitus retraining therapy relies on a pattern of musical tones to help retrain the patient’s brain for interpreting sounds from the actual source.

The system that never sleeps

Believe it or not, your auditory system works 24 hours a day, 7 days a week! Even while you are asleep, this sensory system is actively sending information to your brain. Your brain then filters out sounds it can recognize, process and understand. Without you realizing it, your brain is constantly at work, focusing on what you want to hear (i.e. speech) and deciding how much attention to give to meaningless noise (i.e. the air-conditioner humming).

While there may be several reasons that can prevent you from having good hearing, at Quality Hearing Care, our team of experts examine each level of hearing, and are happy to provide guidance and solutions that are suited to your needs and lifestyle. 

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