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How Ear Shape Affects Sound Perception

How Ear Shape Affects Sound Perception

A recent suggests the shape of your auricle or outer ear controls how your brain perceives the vertical location of sounds. In other words, your ear shape can affect how well you hear.

Shape Is Essential

The auricle includes the visible portion of your external ear and a portion of the ear canal. When a sound vibration hits your outer ear, it reverberates off the grooves and curves and gets funneled into your inner ear, where it’s sent to your brain for interpretation.

Your ability to locate sound is based on sound waves hitting your eardrums at different times. That’s how you’re able to figure out if a sound is coming from your left or right. But, your auricle controls your ability to locate a sound above or below your ears.

The Study

Neuroscientist Régis Trapeau and Marc Schönweisner, a professor at Leipzig University in Germany, worked with volunteers in 2018 to determine how the shape of the outer ear controlled their sound perception.

Participants had small silicone molds inserted into a portion of their outer ear and were exposed to a series of sounds. They were then asked to identify the direction of the source.

Trapeau and Schönweisner discovered the following:

  • The volunteers were unable to identify the vertical direction of the sounds accurately.
  • Brain scans found the participants’ neurons were firing in a seemingly random pattern. Without the silicone inserts, the neurons fired more rapidly if a sound were located below a volunteer’s ears.

Ears Can Adapt

After a week of wearing the earmolds, the participants returned for another round of testing. Surprisingly, their ability to accurately identify the vertical location of sounds had improved.

The results from the study suggested that our ears adapt to change even as we age. Furthermore, hearing is not just reliant on your brain’s ability to interpret sound, but your subconscious understanding of how your ear shape affects what you hear.

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