Please Explain: Hearing and Sound

Friday, February 08, 2013

For this week’s Please Explain, we’ll find out how we process all the sounds we hear every day—from the hum of the heater to the wail of sirens to music to speech—and how it shapes our brains and behavior. Seth Horowitz, neuroscientist and assistant research scientists at Brown, explains how we hear, why songs get stuck in our heads, why certain sounds make us cringe while others are soothing, the ways we’ve learned to manipulate sound, and the difference between hearing and listening. He’s the author of The Universal Sense: How Hearing Shapes the Mind.


Seth Horowitz

Comments [17]

Serena from UWS

Not tinnitus John A. Tomatis:
Alfred A. Tomatis (1 January 1920–25 December 2001) was an internationally known otolaryngologist, and inventor. He received his Doctorate in Medicine from the Paris School of Medicine.[1] His alternative medicine theories of hearing and listening are known as the Tomatis method or Audio-Psycho-Phonology (APP).

Tomatis' approach began as an effort to help professional singers in his native Nice based on his idea that errant hearing is the root cause of a variety of ailments. His Listening Test and later his Electronic Ear therapy

Feb. 08 2013 02:15 PM
Laura from UWS

Bass sounds that also make you feel their vibrations--do these have a different effect on the body and mind than sounds you only hear but don't feel? I'm thinking of my neighbor's music.

Feb. 08 2013 01:57 PM
Rosemary from Jackson Heights

When my daughter was 2 weeks old, 23 years ago, I was listening to WNYC. There was a promo that included the sound of a chime or music box. The mobile over my daughter's crib had a wind-up chime. My daughter turned her head towards the radio. I've always thought she had recognized the chime sound, and thought that was kind of amazing at two weeks.

Feb. 08 2013 01:50 PM
John A. from i

Tinnitus, as Serena says.

Feb. 08 2013 01:50 PM
John A

It's understandable that your ear would have one cup shape leading to the eardrum. So why does it have a second cup, above that one, that seems to lead to nowhere?

Feb. 08 2013 01:48 PM

What are some of the great unanswered questions that neuroscientists are asking about hearing?

Feb. 08 2013 01:47 PM
Serena from UWS

Can you talk about Tomatis?

Feb. 08 2013 01:45 PM
Chris from Queens

For picking out sounds from the background, I had a college professor that told us that our brain breaks sound waves down into the different frequencies. When it recognizes a familiar set of peaks amongst all those different frequencies, it pays attention. It's like each sound has its own fingerprint, this unique set of frequencies utilized. This is how we pick out a friend's voice in a loud party, or the cry of our own babies.

Feb. 08 2013 01:43 PM
paula from nyc

I just moved into an art studio that has an intermittent pulsating buzzing sound. It comes on at different times of the day. Sometimes it can get very loud. Landlord did not inform me of this feature before i rented studio, needless to say. Am I fooling myself to think I can get used to this, when it's making crazy right now?

Feb. 08 2013 01:35 PM

1. I've been told that young people can hear higher frequencies than adults can, so there has been an issue of kids setting cellphone ringers that older teachers _cannot_ hear. True?

2. What about animals that can move their outer ears independently of one another?

Feb. 08 2013 01:31 PM
KC Trommer from Jackson Heights, NY

I was reading in The Wonder of Boys that men and boys hear better in one ear than the other, as a rule. Is this so?

Feb. 08 2013 01:30 PM

Putting an earphone _in_ the ear, facing outward is what artist Janet Cardiff has done in a few of her works. The two I experienced were striking.

Feb. 08 2013 01:29 PM

Given the way I think, I have to ask what Seth Horowitz thinks of the use of sound as a weapon. The US blasted the Papal Nunciature in Panama City with music of Van Halen at deafening volumes to try to force Manuel Noriega out in 1989.

There have been reports of the US and Israel (among others) using sound weapons as part of the new generation of so-called "less-than-lethal" weapons.

Feb. 08 2013 01:26 PM

Sorry — posted in wrong section.

Feb. 08 2013 01:22 PM

Sobering. When I see people moving carts full of bottles and cans, I find myself thinking of ragpickers — the people at the very bottom of the economic ladder in 19th century London and New York. They literally picked over the rags discarded by others.

Feb. 08 2013 01:21 PM

but if a tree falls and no one is there does it make a sound?

Feb. 08 2013 12:11 PM
Lorraine Register from Monclova Mexico

We have a center for children and adults with special needs in Monclova Mexico.

Feb. 08 2013 12:02 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.