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A study debunks how hearing works

how hearing works
The fascinating science and study of hearing is nothing new. After all, that’s how we have such advanced technology, resources, and research. However, things can completely wipe what we’ve previously believed. That is what a team of researchers from Linköping University in Sweden did with their recent study. They’ve debunked how we thought hearing works.

How We Thought Hearing Works

The way we hear is made up of a variety of mechanisms. Researchers from Linköping University explain these mechanisms in a SciTechDaily article. We’ve previously believed that those mechanisms were not so interconnected but rather more unique, and separate. For example, we’ve believed hearing to consist of sensory cells in the ear, with each cell having its own unique “optimal frequency.” What this means is that each sensory cell was said to have a different number of sound waves per second (frequency). Those sound waves or frequencies then prompt a reaction from the hair cell in the ear. While there are still separate mechanisms that help us hear, certain processes may be more interconnected than once believed.
Another widely held belief of hearing is that different parts of the tiny bone shaped structure of our ear, the cochlea, had similar functions. However, the  researchers behind this study discovered what we’ve believed for years might not actually be the case. After all, more and more research has been coming out on new information regarding the cochlea.

Read more: Researchers prove accessibility of the cochlea

The Study

Researchers set out to fill a gap that hasn’t yet been widely studied. Not much was known on how regions in the cochlea that encode sounds of low frequency worked. Researchers used the cochlea of guinea pigs with similar hearing capabilities, particularly in lower frequencies to humans. They used pure tone stimuli that only consisted of one frequency, and studied how responses were carried out. However, they explain that even though only one frequency was used, sounds naturally produce different frequencies. They discuss in depth how responses to this frequency can be changed by the auditory neurons that exist from the brain-stem to the cortex.


The findings from this study are remarkable. They show there are actually numerous cells within the inner ear that react to low frequency sounds all at once. For frequencies of less than 1,000 Hz, many cells are reacting together as opposed to separately as previously believed. Sounds in the low frequency category include vowel sounds of verbal speech, middle C on the piano, etc.

[The findings] show there are actually numerous cells within the inner ear that react to low frequency sounds all at once.

What This Means for the Future

These incredible findings have the potential to advance the field of hearing loss and hearing care. More specifically, researchers believe this could be a major headway into improving the design and function of cochlear implants. Currently cochlear implants are designed based off what was previously believed: that each cell has its own frequencies. Therefore, cochlear implants are structured for each individual electrode to stimulate the nerve at specific frequencies.
Based on the findings, researchers suggest implementing a new design. Anders Fridberger, professor from Linköping University told SciTechDaily, “The design of current cochlear implants is based on the assumption that each electrode should only give nerve stimulation at certain frequencies, in a way that tries to copy what was believed about the function of our hearing system. We suggest that changing the stimulation method at low frequencies will be more similar to the natural stimulation, and the hearing experience of the user should in this way be improved.”
Author Details
Hi, my name is Danielle! I’m an Psy.D. graduate psychology student with an immense passion for writing and helping and inspiring others in any way I can. I am an anti-bullying and mental health advocate, blogger, and public speaker through my personal blog and social media campaign, “Compassionately Inspired”. I was born with a severe conductive hearing loss and hope to inspire others both in the hard of hearing and deaf community as well as the hearing community. “Everybody has a story”; that’s my motto and I hope my stories inspire you in one way or another.