Understanding How We Hear

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Hearing is a complex process

Have you ever stopped to think about how we hear? Though it seems as if this happens automatically, hearing involves a complex process that includes various components in your ear. Knowing more about how we hear can help you understand the ways this process can be disrupted, causing hearing loss. The following video explains how we ear.



The auditory system converts sound to electrical signals

The auditory system – the sensory system for hearing – involves the ears and brain which work together to absorb and process sound. This includes the following steps:

  • Outer ear: the outer portion of the ear is the most visible part. The outer cartilage and portion of the ear absorbs sound waves from the environment These soundwaves travel through the ear canal before landing on the eardrum.
  • Middle ear: movement of the eardrum activates the ossicles – three tiny bones that are connected. This activity helps propel soundwaves further into the inner ear.
  • Inner ear: there are thousands of sensory cells in the inner ear that help convert soundwaves into electrical signals.
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The brain assigns meaning to the electrical signals

These signals then get carried to the brain via auditory pathways. The brain continues processing these signals which includes assigning meaning to them. There are specific portions of the brain that are involved in this process including the temporal lobe, broca’s area, and wernicke’s area. These areas of the brain are responsible for language and speech comprehension and interpret the auditory information received from the ears; allowing us to understand what we hear. This process can be disrupted in several ways, causing hearing loss.

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