Auditory Science Lab

An overview of the ear

Auditory Science spans many scientific and clinical areas related to how we hear sound and what happens when someone has a problem with hearing. Our web pages will outline some of the research that we have been carrying out to further understand the mechanisms of hearing and hearing loss

Let's start with a few basics. When we hear sounds we are detecting acoustic signals which are essentially vibrations in the air (unless you happen to live underwater). These signals are usually very complex and made up of many different frequency components which vary over time. Important signals for humans are speech signals because we use these to communicate with each other. Anatomically the ear is divided into three parts; the outer or external ear, the middle ear and the inner ear.

The function of the part of the inner ear called the cochlea is to detect the presence of these sounds and to analyze their pattern of frequency components and their rhythms and to represent this information in a form that can be processed by the auditory parts of the central brain, the central auditory pathway. The acoustic signals are thus transduced (converted) into patterns of electrical changes in the brain, and passed from the cochleas to the most central area, auditory cortex.