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Hearing is a familiar and important human sense that is a topic naturally of interest to those who are curious about human biology. This free course will enable you to relate what you read to your own sensory experiences and indeed many of the questions asked have exactly that function. This course will be best understood by those with some biological understanding.

After studying this course, you should be able to:

  • distinguish between the major anatomical components of the outer, middle and inner ear
  • describe the function of the outer, middle and inner ear
  • describe the structure of the cochlea
  • describe the structural arrangements of the organ of Corti and the function of the basilar membrane
  • decribe the main causes of hearing impairments and the methods used to rehabilitate hearing-impaired individuals.

By: The Open University

  • Duration 15 hours
  • Updated Thursday 31st March 2016
  • Advanced level
  • Posted under Biology
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This course examines the basic mechanisms responsible for our ability to hear. Humans are able to distinguish a remarkable range of sounds and hearing provides us with a unique source of information about what is occurring in our immediate surroundings. Our sense of hearing depends entirely on the sensory receptors of the inner ear known as hair cells. Hair cells are extremely vulnerable and can be affected by disease, ageing and over-exposure to loud noise. Once destroyed, they do not regenerate. In this course we describe in detail the function of the cochlea, which is where the hair cells are located. We learn how sound energy is transduced into electrical signals and how a rapid-fire code of electrical impulses about the physical characteristics of a particular sound is sent to the brain. The brain interprets these signals as a musical phrase, a human voice or any of the range of sounds in the world around us at a particular moment. We also examine the central auditory nervous system pathways and describe the physiological mechanisms responsible for our sense of pitch and loudness and our ability to localise the source of a sound stimulus. Finally, we look at the main types of hearing impairment and their causes, effects and rehabilitation.

This OpenLearn course is an adapted extract from the Open University course SD329 Signals and perception: the science of the senses [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

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