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Unbelievable! Our skin can hear

The study researchers hope their findings would help in the future development of the hearing aids

Los Angeles, CA, November 26 -- Humans hear not just with their ears but also with their skin and hair follicles, according to surprise findings of a new research. Sensations on the skin surface help in understanding what is being said, the Canadian research suggest.

The novel research carried out by Bryan Gick and colleagues at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, asserts that skin plays a vital role in human hearing.

Brain does multi-sense integration
The findings suggest our brains grasp and integrate information from various senses to build a single picture of our surroundings.

"It gets integrated into a single event in your mind," News Scientist quoted Gick as saying.

"[That's] very different from the more traditional ideas, based on the fact that we have eyes so we think of ourselves as seeing visible information, and we have ears so we think of ourselves as hearing auditory information. That's a little bit misleading," Gick said.

"A more likely explanation is that we have brains that perceive rather than we have eyes that see and ears that hear."

Study details
To determine if tactile sensations could affect human hearing, the research team studied 66 volunteers. They divided all participants into three groups of 22, with one group hearing the syllables while a puff of air was blown onto the back of their right hands, the other having air blown onto the front of their necks, and the third group hearing the sounds with no air.

Sitting in a soundproof booth, all the participants listened to the syllables ‘pa’ and ‘ba’ spoken eight times each through headphones. They then heard ‘ta’ and ‘da’ spoken eight times each. Background noise that played through the headphones but directed away from their bodies increased the difficulty of telling syllables apart.

Gick and colleagues found that puffs of air delivered via a valve attached to an air compressor alongside certain sounds were likely to influence sense of speech.

The team found that "ba" and "da", known as un-aspirated sounds, were heard as "pa" and "ta", the aspirated equivalents that involve an inaudible burst of air when spoken, when presented alongside the puff of air.

Hope for new hearing aids
The study researchers hope their findings would help in the future development of the hearing aids.

"All we need is a pneumatic device that can produce air puffs aimed at the neck at the right times based on acoustic input into the hearing aid, and then a set of experiments to test the efficacy," Gick said.

Funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada and the National Institutes of Health, the research appears in the Nov. 26 issue of the journal Nature.