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  • Writer's pictureConverging Sounds

Perception of Sound: A Physiological and Psychological Review

If everyone perceives the same frequencies of sound in the same way why is that some of us are more inclined to like different versions of a particular frequency? Is it because our brain has a selective mechanism through which we tend to listen to only what we want to hear or is it because we only listen for a sound we have heard before which we found amazing. The answer could probably lie in a combination of both of the above. It is very difficult to pin point an exact answer as we are yet to explore much of our brains physiology and psychology.

To further explore the possible answers to the question we must first have an abstract understanding of the physiology of the human ear. The human ear can be broken down into three parts namely the outer ear which consists of the pinna and the ear canal, the middle ear which contains the three bones or ossicles namely malleus, incus and stapes and our inner ear which consists of the cochlea and the vestibular system( responsible of proprioception) . Sound only exists as vibration in the atmosphere , this vibrations are only converted into sound when our brain interprets it as a sound. The mechanism can be briefly explained as follows, first the vibrations from our atmosphere are picked up by our pinna which transmits it to the ear canal. The ear canal opens up into the middle ear which amplifies these vibration and sends it to our inner ear where hair like cells present on the organ of corti which sits spirally on the cochlea pick up these vibrations , convert them into electrical impulses and sends them to our brain (Ferraro, 2002, p. 166).                                       These impulses travel to the auditory centre of the brain where the brain perceives these impulses as a sound. Sound only exists once our brain makes sense out of these impulses. How does our brain do it one may ask. Studies have shown that the perception of sound is mainly based on memory , to elaborate we tend to recognise more easily those sounds that we have heard before and new sounds often leave us puzzled. This does not mean that we are not able to perceive these new sounds for example, when human beings communicate with each other through language we interpret those words we have a good understanding off but the real marvel here is that because of a lack of understating of interpretation of frequency we often tend to misinterpret and miss out on so many sounds (Ronnberg, 2013, n.d.).

If you listen closely to a pack of wolves howling and listen closely you will realize that every wolf is actually howling at a different frequency but how many of us are actually able to notice that. This is where a trained ear plays a crucial role. If we are able to  train ear to actually understand and differentiate between these frequencies every minute detail of sound is interpreted by our brain but this of course is a time consuming process . Different styles of music often deal with vibrations ranging from about 20-20000hz but some of us like rock while other prefer another style. Could the reason behind this be that we are limiting our ears to listen to only what we want to or when we hear something new or weird we convince our brain into thinking it’s not nice. The answer could be anything because each one of us have a different interpretation of what is nice and what is not, But music in general has a capability of creating powerful responses in our brain and in impact crated from these responses is what constitutes our interpretation of good music (The impact of sound on the brain, n.d.)

 I would like to sum up by saying that we must keep ourselves open to new experiences in life so as to expand our horizon of conscious interpretation of sounds , this will enable us to understand different frequencies of sound more distinctly and maybe even allow us to enjoy different styles of music because the emotional impact of music can wary from person to person depending on their state of mind as well.                                         


1) Digital image. (n.d.) Retrieved October 14, 2017, form 2) Ferraro,J.A.(2002). Hearing: Its Physiology and Pathophysiology,. Ear and Hearing, 23(2), 166. doi;10.1097/0000346-200204000-00009 3) Home. (n.d.). Retrieved October 15, 2017, from -sound-on-the-brain/ 4) Ronnberg, J., Lunner, T.,Zekveld, A., Sorqvist, p., Danielsson, H., Lyxell, B., … Runder, M.(2013). The Ease of Language Understanding (ELU) model: theoretical, empirical, and clinical advances. Fortiers in Systems Neuroscience, 7.doi:10.3389/fysys.201300031

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