1. Link the Writer

    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Hearing folks, a question do I have.

    Discussion in 'Research' started by Link the Writer, Nov 14, 2017 at 3:28 PM.

    Hearing people, a question I have:

    How do your ears work when pinpointing sounds? I can't do it all that well, as if someone calls me, my hearing aid makes it sound like they're all over the place like the very air itself. How do you know how to perceive the direction of sound? How easy is it for you?

    In other words, if someone is shouting for you from a specific room across the building or on the second floor, can you know exactly from where they're shouting?
     
  2. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    My ears can detect the general direction, and my sight is used to pinpoint: I'll instinctively turn my head in the direction of whoever's calling my name, but then I need my eyes to see who's looking expectantly at me/turned in my direction/whatever. If I was blindfolded, I'd be unlikely to pinpoint the exact direction of the sound.

    Environmental factors can interfere, too. It's much easier to tell where a sound is coming from in a quiet room than in a bustling crowd, or outside in strong wind/rain. And, obviously, the louder the sound, the easier it is to pick it out.

    It also depends on the sound. Our names are one of the strongest stimuli for our ears - even in a crowded room, when engaged in conversation, we will immediately tune into the sound of our name from across the room (assuming it's audible). Generally, in that situation, our brains would automatically focus on the sound of the person we're talking to and filter out all the other noises into a blended background noise.
     
  3. Bill Chester

    Bill Chester Active Member

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    Physiologically, the brain does its magic on the differences in arrival time of the sound waves to infer the position of the source. It might be possible (this is off the top of my head) with two in-the-ear hearing aids to give the brain enough time difference information to allow it to locate the source.

    The head is a barrier that causes volume differences between the ears.

    When I bought the house I’m living in now, the previous owner had fire alarms in every room. One of the alarms’ batteries was dying, so it was beeping every few minutes. We couldn’t identify the source because the beeps were creating a standing wave, so the location-to-ears time differences were destroyed. Eventually, we found the alarm in the garbage pile.
     
  4. Link the Writer

    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I probably should've mentioned it, but I was born with only one working ear. The other one, er, the one that looks like an elf ear...doesn't work.
     
  5. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan Active Member

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    Ish, yeah. If it's my place, my parents, or a friends where I know the house, I can usually make an educated guess as to where they are in the building and be accurate around 98 percent of the time. Somewhere I'm not familiar with, though and I'd be right stumped. "Down that hall" or "on the floor above me" would be about as accurate as I could reasonably expect to be in that situation.
     
  6. izzybot

    izzybot Oportet Vivere Contributor

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    How well your directional hearing works varies from person to person even when both ears function, so you've got some leeway if this is for writing purposes. I have sensitive hearing so you'd expect me to be a wizard about it, but my directional hearing is actually only so-so. It's really quite easy to convince yourself that a sound is coming from somewhere just because you're looking at it.

    Like @The Dapper Hooligan brings up, it can be pretty context-based. In my dad's house, where I grew up, I could be in the basement and tell you where someone was moving around on the second floor, and in my current place I can tell when my dog turns a corner on the other side of the house, but it's more because I know the sounds than my brain is telling me where they're coming from.

    It has a lot to do with volume, but your brain does the processing instead of you thinking, "Oh, it was equally quiet in both ears, so it must be directly behind me."

    I think there's something about the vibrations of deep sounds that makes them easier to pinpoint, as well, whereas high-pitched things like smoke alarms with low batteries are nigh impossible.
     
  7. Bill Chester

    Bill Chester Active Member

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    Izzy, you've got things backwards. Long-wavelength sound doesn't have enough phase difference between the ears, so it is harder to localize. Think of a subwoofer--you only need one because you can't localize the low frequencies.

    Out here in the country, the soundscape is mostly birds and lawnmowers. There's no problem hearing where the birds are, but the lawnmowers can be hard to find.

    The problem with smoke detectors is that the dead-battery beep is constant frequency and it's quite long. The sound bounces around off the walls and ceiling and sets up a standing wave. What makes it worse is that when you move, you create a different standing wave, confusing your ears even more.
     
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2017 at 5:45 PM
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  8. izzybot

    izzybot Oportet Vivere Contributor

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    Huh. That's odd. I always seem to have an easier time with lower lawnmower-type sounds. Might just be that the higher registers bother me so I try to block them out - that's probably a sizeable obstacle to finding something :D
     
  9. Bill Chester

    Bill Chester Active Member

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    Yeah, my high frequencies are going--old age. There is a wall of forest behind my house that acts a low-frequency reflector, further increasing the low-frequency volume and screwing up the phase.
     
  10. JLT

    JLT Contributor Contributor

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    If my head were held immobile, my ears generally would detect left/right differences, but not front/back. By swiveling my head, I can tell whether the sound is coming from in front or behind; if, say, a sound coming from the left increases in volume if the left ear were moved forward, and decreases if the ear were moved back, that would tell me that the sound was coming from the front. As Bill Chester pointed out, it's done unconsciously, for the most part, as part of what we learn in infancy.

    In much the same way, a person who is blind in one eye could create some sort of parallax effect by slightly moving his or her head and noting the shift in objects, thereby compensating for the lack of true stereoscopic vision.
     
  11. Shenanigator

    Shenanigator Member

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    Normally I can tell where sounds are coming from, yes...until I moved to my current place, that is. The arrangement of the buildings makes sounds that are out back sound like they're coming from the front yard, and vice-versa. So when there's a sound outside that needs to be investigated, it's not enough to go to an open window to listen; you have to go outside to track it down.
     
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