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.

Learning outcomes

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.

Course Curriculum

1. Sound reception
Sound reception: the ear 01:30:00
2. Structure and function
Structure and function of the outer and middle ear 01:30:00
3. The structure and function of the inner ear
The anatomy of the cochlea 01:30:00
The role of the basilar membrane in sound reception 01:30:00
The organ of Corti and hair cells 01:30:00
Neural transduction 01:30:00
Synaptic transmission from hair cells 01:30:00
Revision questions 01:30:00
4. Neural processing
Neural processing of auditory information 01:30:00
5. Frequency coding in cochlear nerve fibres
Place code 01:30:00
Frequency code 01:30:00
6. Intensity coding
Firing-rate hypothesis 01:30:00
Number of neurons hypothesis 01:30:00
7. The central auditory nervous system
The ascending auditory pathway 01:30:00
Coding of information in the higher auditory centres 01:30:00
The ‘what’ pathway 01:30:00
The ‘where’ pathway 01:30:00
Revision Q’s and Summary 01:30:00
8. Psychophysics
Auditory perception 01:30:00
Psychophysics 01:30:00
Method of limits 01:30:00
Differential sensitivity 01:30:00
Weber’s Law 01:30:00
9. The perception of intensity
Absolute thresholds 01:30:00
The relationship between loudness and intensity 01:30:00
10. The perception of frequency
The relationship between frequency and pitch 00:30:00
Frequency discrimination 01:30:00
Frequency selectivity 01:30:00
A masking experiment 01:30:00
Signal duration 01:30:00
11. Sound localisation
Localisation of sound in the horizontal plane 01:30:00
Interaural time delays: non-continuous sounds 01:30:00
Interaural time delays: continuous tones 01:30:00
Interaural intensity differences 01:30:00
Revision and Summary – Sound Localisation 01:30:00
Acknowledgements – Hearing Course 00:30:00
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