Saturday, November 28, 2009

Skin, hair hear just like ears do

Updated on : Saturday, November 28, 2009

TORONTO: 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 Thursday's Nature journal.

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," "da" and "ta."

People's skin and even hair follicles recognize a puff of air when a person says "pa" or "ta," their paper notes.

The puffs were applied to the neck and top of the hand because hair follicles help people perceive the puff of air.

When study participants felt a puff of air on their skin from an air compressor, they were more likely to perceive the syllable "pa" when in fact the syllable "ba" had been spoken, the researchers found.

Gick said 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 seeing and only deal with hearing and so on.

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.

"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."

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