Human ears have the ability to focus their hearing towards a particular sound, a study has proven for the first time.
Our ears may not move directly towards a noise like a dog’s or a cat’s would. However, a Saarland research team has proven that we unconsciously make small movements with our ears aimed towards the sounds we want to focus on.
The study measured electrical impulses of the ear muscles and have found that this activity indicates the direction the person is focusing their hearing on, claimed Professor Daniel Strauss in the paper published in eLife.
Human ears stopped moving directly around 25 million years ago, however it is believed the system still exists in what Professor Strauss describes as a “neural fossil”.
The study found it works in a couple of ways. Using a surface electromyography sensor, electrical signals in the muscles of the pinna (the outer ear) could detect microscopic movements which indicated the direction of the person’s attention.
The potential for this discovery’s use is massive in the world of ear care. If a person’s hearing had reduced to the point that ear syringing treatments will not restore it, future designs of hearing aids could potentially detect the aural focus of the listener and use a directional microphone to allow a listener to hear what they are trying to hear.
The ideal would be to not require the need for hearing aids, however, this could be a breakthrough that will significantly improve the lives of the almost nine million people with a hearing impairment.