We know that ears hear and the brain listens. We understand these as two different functions- someone might not hear well but be very good at listening, and others with excellent hearing can have trouble listening. What you might not know is how these two intricate tasks work together.
Our ears hear every sound in our environment within the ranges of human hearing, even when we’re sleeping. We process auditory input ten times faster than our vision operates, but our automatic brain develops a filter that decides what should get our attention. Sounds that aren’t likely to affect us are suppressed, and the conscious brain engages meaningful sounds. Only then do we begin to listen.
The three types of attention use three different pathways in the brain. The first is the most direct, reserved for sudden noises or other threatening sounds. It begins the fight or flight response and might trigger a startle reflex. The second type is a sensory awareness path: we are aware of the fan’s hum, but we aren’t thinking about it.
The third type of attention is activated in the cortex, where listening can be focused and other senses and distractions can be tuned out. We are no longer aware of the fan or the sight of cars passing by during a heated argument. Reasoning and calculation happens here too, but the sound competes with any other sensory signals that are sent to the brain as well as our own thoughts. We are actually working very hard to “just listen”.
If you think hearing or listening might be difficult for your child, or you have any questions about audiology, we are proud to offer high quality audiology services at Carolina Pediatric Therapy. Our experienced staff and comprehensive technology can help you and your child communicate more effectively.
Appointments for evaluations are available for scheduling at 828-670-8056. Please contact your child’s physician for a referral. Click here, for more information on Carolina Pediatric Therapy’s Audiology program.
The Magic of Listening ~ by: Catherine Wells