A graphic image of an ear and otoscope. The latter is used to check one's hearing.

Hearing requires more than just your ears.

Our senses are crucial aspects of our body, with each serving a specific purpose. However, it turns our senses do not work alone. In a coordinated effort, they work together to function properly. According to a recent study by NYU Langone Medical Center, our sense of hearing collaborates with some of our other senses to better interpret sound.

Hearing Sounds

“What the brain ‘hears’ depends on what is ‘seen’ in addition to specific sounds, as the brain calculates how to respond,” says study senior investigator and neuroscientist Robert Froemke, Ph.D., an assistant professor at NYU Langone and its Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine.

The nerve cells that are responsible for hearing also use the other senses. As Dr. Froemke stated, sight plays a big role in providing context. When you can see your surroundings, your brain knows how to properly react to certain sounds. Think of sights relationship to hearing as a form of confirmation, helping the brain determine what the origin of a certain sound is.

“Our study shows how the same sound can mean different things inside the brain depending on the situation,” says Froemke. “We know, for instance, that people learn to respond without alarm to the honk of a car horn if heard from the safety of their homes, but are startled to hear the same honk while crossing a busy street.”

NYU Langone’s team used mice and treats to look into how the nerve cells work. What they found is that depending on the context, the brain will adjust hearing accordingly. Surprisingly, when the mice expected a treat, these nerve cells weren’t as active. However, when they expected a reward based on a sound, some of these nerves were highly active.

Further research needs to be done. What scientists should look into is how these nerves react in a person without sight or poor sight. Hopefully, it can help them understand cognitive issues.