The ear – what our hearing can do

The ear - what our hearing can do

The philosopher Immanuel Kant is said to have said: “Not being able to see separates you from things. Not being able to hear separates you from people.” He has valued hearing as a social sense more important than sight. Visual stimuli strongly influence our modern world. Therefore, the importance of hearing and the performance of our ears are often underestimated today.

Our hearing – a vital sense

We can hear in the womb. No wonder newborns can distinguish their mother’s voice from all other voices before they can recognize her face. The ears are in use day and night, non-stop – for a lifetime. They do the unbelievable: we can hear hushed noises. If we could see just as well, we would see a 10-watt bulb from 1,000 kilometres away.

We hear a range of over 10 octaves – from 20 Hertz to 16,000 Hertz. The power of the eye corresponds to only one octave. If one were to transfer the dynamic range of hearing to a scale, that scale could weigh anything from a grain of sand to a tractor without switching gears. Hearing is the most sensitive and dynamic human sense organ.


What hearing does for us every day

  • Alerting
  •  The sense of hearing alerts and warns. Telephone rings, doorbells, bangs, shouts, thunder or horns can alert us to dangers, especially on the road.
  • Orientation
  •  The sense of hearing supports orientation in space. With our eyes closed, we hear whether we are in a large or small room. Since we hear with two ears, we can estimate the direction from which sounds are coming.
  • Facilitating understanding through language
  •  Thanks to our hearing, we can learn to speak. With healthy hearing, conversations are possible even under unfavourable conditions – background noise, poor telephone connection, echoing rooms.
  • Informing
  •  We take in a lot of information through our ears – conversations, telephone, radio, television.
  • Transporting moods
  •  When we talk, we hear more than just words. We also perceive the volume, speech melody or pitch and thus decode the mood and feelings of the speaker, such as irony, astonishment, and aggression.

More “Visual Types”

Despite everything, adults prioritize seeing, according to a study by Prof. Vladimir Sloutsky, University of Ohio. He showed a picture to four-year-olds and adults and played three notes simultaneously. Later, this combination of image and tone sequence should be recognized. While all adults concentrated exclusively on the right picture, a good half of the children (53 per cent) mainly focused on the sequence of tones. Although – as another test showed – they were just as quickly able to recognize the right image immediately.


Children like sounds

While adults focus on visual perception, children focus on hearing. The scientist assumes that small children concentrate more on sounds because otherwise, they cannot learn to speak. (ft)


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