How Auditory Processing Affects Brain Processes

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  • 0:01 Auditory Processing
  • 1:09 The Auditory System
  • 1:56 Stages of Auditory Processing
  • 3:42 Auditory Processing Disorder
  • 5:01 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Hearing is much more than receiving sound. It also involves the brain's ability to process sound waves into usable information. In this lesson, we're going to explore the impact of the auditory process on the brain's ability to recognize the world around us.

Auditory Processing

Listen to what I'm saying. Can you hear me? Can you understand me? Burger dolphin. How well can you hear my voice? One of those phrases was complete nonsense. If you were paying close attention, you just may have caught that. It was 'burger dolphin.' There is no such thing as a burger dolphin. Sorry.

How did you know that phrase was nonsense? Because as the sound waves left your computer, they entered your ears and became a signal that your brain was able to interpret and recognize as something that doesn't make sense, and this happened really fast. Were you aware of this happening? Of course not, but it did.

The process of receiving sounds and interpreting it within the brain is known as auditory processing. We do this all the time. It's how you know what a sound is, as well as if it's in front of you, behind you, or far away. Want to know how this works? Well then, all you need to do is listen.

The Auditory System

Let's start looking at this by checking out how we actually receive and process sounds. The auditory system is the part of the body responsible for hearing. It starts, obviously enough, with our ears. Sound waves are reflected and amplified by the outer ear, enter into the middle ear and are filtered by the eardrum, and are converted into an electrical signal in the inner ear.

From here, the sound information travels along the vestibulocochlear nerve and into the brain, where the electric signal is received and interpreted by neurons. In humans, this takes place in the primary auditory cortex, which is part of the temporal lobe right here (see image in video).

Stages of Auditory Processing

So, that's the physical auditory process. Now, what does this mean? Although the entire auditory process is composed of over a dozen different aspects, each of which impacts the ability of the brain to process the information around us, these can be grouped into four main stages of auditory process, each of which is constantly running:

  • First is auditory awareness, which is the ability to detect a sound as well as its source. Did you hear a noice? Where did it come from? This is one of the first things our minds develop as infants.
  • Stage two is auditory discrimination, or the ability to detect differences between sounds. This can be obvious, like the difference between breaking glass and piano music, or more complex, like the differences between sounds within a language or the tones of people's voices.
  • The third stage of auditory processing is auditory identification, the ability to attach meaning to sounds. It's not enough to recognize that there is a sound and that it is different from other sounds. Your brain must be able to figure out what the sound is. Does it represent danger, comfort, an opportunity, or something irrelevant?
  • The fourth stage is auditory comprehension, the ability to infer and retain information from sounds. If you hear part of a conversation, can you make an inference about what it was about? Can you remember complex information? That's because your brain is processing sounds in a way that allows for this advanced level of comprehension.

Auditory Processing Disorder

To fully understand how our brains use the auditory process, it may be helpful to see what happens when this process is interrupted. Auditory Processing Disorder, or APD, is the impaired ability to recognize and comprehend auditory information. It can be caused by dramatic injuries or genetically inherited and, especially for children, can result in learning difficulties.

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