Auditory System

  • John F. Brugge
Part of the Readings from the Encyclopedia of Neuroscience book series (REN)


The auditory system is remarkable in the range of sound frequencies and intensities it can detect and in the small differences in these parameters it can discriminate. A young listener can hear sounds ranging in frequency from 20 Hz (cycles per second) to 20,000 Hz (20kHz). Within this range, as little as a 0.1% change in frequency is detectable. In the intensity domain, the same listener detects displacements of the ear drum two orders of magnitude smaller than the diameter of a hydrogen atom. At the same time, hearing is quite clear when the amplitude of the sound is raised by a factor of 106, which gives good listeners a dynamic range of more than 100 decibels (dB) on the scale of acoustic energy. Within this dynamic range, a change of 1 or 2 dB is easily detected. Our listener may detect with uncanny accuracy the location of a sound in space and will discriminate between two speakers located within a few degrees of each other on the horizontal plane. This ability to both detect and discriminate sounds is achieved by mechanisms operating at the levels of the external ear, middle ear, and inner ear (Fig. 1) and in the central auditory pathways of the brain (Fig. 2).


Hair Cell Tympanic Membrane Auditory Cortex Auditory Nerve Basilar Membrane 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Further reading

  1. Green DM (1976): An Introduction to Hearing. New York: WileyGoogle Scholar
  2. Moore BCJ (1977): Introduction to the Psychology of Hearing. Baltimore: University Park PressGoogle Scholar
  3. Yost WA, Nielsen DW (1977): Fundamentals of Hearing. An Introduction. New York: Holt, Rinehart and WinstonGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Boston, Inc. 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • John F. Brugge

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