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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.
By the end of this free 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;
- explain the difference between the four coding mechanisms used in order to transmit information form the ear to the brain;
- describe the ascending auditory pathway and the funciton of the main nuclei involved;
- describe the basic principles of psychophysics;
- explain the difference between intensity and loudness and between frequency and pitch;
- describe the use of intensity and timing cues in sound localisation;
- decribe the main causes of hearing impairments and the methods used to rehabilitate hearing-impaired individuals.
- Current section: Introduction
- Learning outcomes
- 1 Sound reception: the ear
- 2 Structure and function
- 3 The structure and function of the inner ear
- 3.1 Introduction
- 3.2 The anatomy of the cochlea
- 3.3 The role of the basilar membrane in sound reception
- 3.4 The organ of Corti and hair cells
- 3.5 Neural transduction
- 3.6 Synaptic transmission from hair cells
- 3.7 Hair cell tuning
- 3.8 Revision questions
- 4 Neural processing of auditory information
- 5 Frequency coding in cochlear nerve fibres
- 6 Intensity coding
- 7 The central auditory nervous system
- 8 Auditory perception
- 9 Psychophysics
- 10 The perception of intensity
- 11 The perception of frequency
- 12 Sound localisation
- 12.1 Localisation of sound in the horizontal plane
- 12.2 Interaural time delays: non-continuous sounds
- 12.3 Interaural time delays: continuous tones
- 12.4 Interaural intensity differences
- 12.5 Localisation of sound in the vertical plane
- 12.6 Distance cues
- 12.7 Summary of Section 12
- 12.8 More revision questions
- Keep on learning
Study this free course
Enrol to access the full course, get recognition for the skills you learn, track your progress and on completion gain a statement of participation to demonstrate your learning to others. Make your learning visible!
This unit 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 unit 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 unit is an adapted extract from the course
Copyright & revisions
Originally published: Tuesday, 31st May 2011
Last updated on: Wednesday, 10th October 2012
- Creative-Commons: The Open University is proud to release this free course under a Creative Commons licence. However, any third-party materials featured within it are used with permission and are not ours to give away. These materials are not subject to the Creative Commons licence. See terms and conditions. Full details can be found in the Acknowledgements and our FAQs section.
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