By Richard J. Dalton, Jr.
You hear not just with your ears but also with your skin and hair follicles, according to a paper by University of British Columbia researchers published in the journal Nature on Nov. 26,2009.
Hold your hand in front of your mouth and say “ba”. Now say “pa”. You’ll notice a puff of air when you say “pa”. People listening will hear “pa” not just with their ears but also with their skin by feeling the puff of air, according to the paper by Bryan Gick, an associate professor at UBC, and Donald Derrick, a graduate student.
The pair conducted an experiment in which they applied tiny puffs of air to study participants’ necks and skin when the subjects were listening to the syllables “ba”, “pa” or “ta”. Their paper notes that people’s skin and even hair follicles recognise a puff of air when a person says “pa” or “ta”. The puffs were applied to the neck and top of the hand because hair follicles help people perceive the puff of air.
When participants felt a puff of air on their skin from a compressor, they were more likely to perceive the syllable “pa” when in fact the syllable “ba” had been spoken, the researchers found. People have traditionally believed that “we see with our eyes, and we hear with our ears, and we feel with our skin and so on, and that there are
parts of the brain that only deal with hearing and so on.
“Recent research, including ours, has been leading in a different direction,” he said. “We are naturally multimodal, very versatile perceivers, and we can use any part of our body to pick up information about objects and events around us in our environment. And we naturally incorporate all of that information into our perception of the world.”
Researchers already knew we incorporate what we see into our sense of hearing. Under what is called the McGurk effect, if a person watched a video in which the audio said “ba”, the sounds merge into “da”. The UBC research indicates that what you feel also may be what you hear. On average, subjects were 10% more likely to say they heard “pa” when they actually heard “ba”. Gick said the figure is significant, in part, because people are not consciously aware of the puff of air.
Gick said the study helps researchers understand the mechanism of human perception. Eventually the research might be used to enhance hearing aids by using puffs of air or to attach a pneumatic puffing device to airline pilots’ headsets to enhance hearing in the noisy environment, Gick said.
— The Vancouver Sun