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The Science Of Hearing, Balance & Accelerated Learning

Key Takeaways

  • Difference of the timing and frequency at which sound arrives at ear allows you to make out the direction sound is coming from

  • White noise at low intensity (level you can hear but is not intrusive) can enhance learning in adults

  • Depending on the soundwave frequency – binaural beats can put the brain in a better state to increase cognition, relaxation, creativity, reduce pain and anxiety

  • Low frequency waves put the brain into a relaxed state versus high frequency soundwaves which put the brain into more alert states

  • You can train hearing by deliberately paying attention to onset and offset of words

  • Visual system and auditory system work together for balance

  • Best options to train balance: (1) stand stationary on one leg and look at various points in distance; (2) keep eyes fixed and change body position; (3) tilt the body and head at and angle – such as skateboarding, snowboarding, surfing

  • The size of your ear is an indication of biological age and aging

Anatomy And Function Of Ear

  • The technical name of the ear is pinna

  • Ear size changes across lifespan and is an indication of how fast you are aging

  • Ears amplify high and low frequency sounds

  • Soundwaves (fluctuations in the way air is moving) are captured by ears, eardrum, and hammer

  • The cochlea (snail shaped structure) in ear is where soundwaves get converted to something brain can understand

  • Cochlea separates low frequency from high frequency

  • Soundwaves come in, eardrum moves on hammer, hammer bangs on cochlea and separate types of sound for processing by brain

  • There are many stations in which auditory information is processed before it becomes something we understand

  • Our brain is not only processing what the sound is, but also where it is coming from

  • Auditory and visual system collaborate to understand where things are taking place in space

  • Ventriloquism effect: you think a sound is coming from location that it’s not

  • Inter-oral time difference: stations in brain calculate time of arrival in left ear versus right to help understand what direction sound is coming from

  • The shape of your ear modifies sound depending on where it is coming from

Auto-Acoustic Emission And Sexual Orientation

  • Auto-acoustic emissions: sounds cast out by ears, not heard by the person making the sound

  • 70% of people make noises with their ears

  • Certain combinations of hormones during develop are likely shaping hearing and processing

  • Heterosexual women have a higher rate of auto-acoustic emissions

  • Homosexual or bisexual women have a lower rate of auto-acoustic emissions

Leverage Hearing For Faster Learning

  • Binaural beats: playing one sound in one ear and a different sound in the other ear

  • Binaural beats place the brain into a state that is better for learning

  • Some dentists offer binaural beats for improved relaxation

  • Binaural beats have been shown to increase cognition, relaxation, creativity, pain reduction, anxiety reduction

  • Good evidence supporting the use of binaural beats for anxiety reduction (particularly delta, theta, alpha)

  • Apps have been created which will create sounds based on desired outcome – e.g., relaxation, anti-anxiety, sleep, etc.

  • Binaural soundwaves from lowest to highest frequency:

  • Delta waves (low frequency sounds) can help transition to sleep and staying asleep

  • Theta waves can assist with non-sleep rest – good for meditation

  • Alpha waves can increase alertness – great for recall of existing information

  • Beta waves are great for bringing the brain into focus for complex learning

  • Gamma waves are good for learning and problem solving

  • You need to be in highly alert state to bring new information in – higher soundwaves stimulate advanced learning

  • Low frequency waves put the brain into a relaxed state versus high frequency soundwaves which put the brain into more alert states

  • Possibly because we can channel focus better with background noise

White Noise, Learning & Development

  • White noise has been shown to enhance brain wave states for learning in adults – but – possibly detrimental in young children and infants

  • White noise at low intensity can enhance learning

  • White noise may modulate activity in regions of the brain, including dopaminergic pathway (area of the brain involved in motivation, reward)

  • White noise can raise base levels of dopamine released

  • Sounds in environment can increase learning through dopamine

  • Tip: if using headphones, keep particularly low because the brain is perceiving the sound to come from your head which can be stimulating

  • There is data that white noise can be detrimental to mapping of auditory system of brain in children

  • Not worth the risk of using white noise machine to help infants and children sleep through the night

How To Improve Auditory Learning

  • Cocktail party effect: in an environment rich with sounds, you need to pay attention to certain sounds (and people) and not others

  • The brain is good at extracting information we need and ignoring the rest, but it takes a lot of energy

  • Much like we can expand visual field, we can expand and contract auditory field – actively tune out background noise or chatter

  • Train your hearing: disengage auditory system when you don’t need to focus on something particular

  • To improve auditory learning: deliberately pay attention to onset and offset of words – for example, the “J” and “f” sounds in Jeff when someone introduces themselves by name

  • Passively listening does not allow brain to process information and commit to memory

  • Listen for particular cues within speech and sound to change neurocircuitry in brain

  • Highlight certain words or frequency of sound to improve learning

Vestibular System (Balance)

  • Balance starts in the ears

  • Three planes head can move along: pitch (nod up and down), yan (shake side to side), roll (tilt side to side)

  • Depending on what direction the head is moving, different signal is sent to brain

  • Vestibular system works with visual system

  • Try moving your head fast then slow and notice the difference in difficulty and discomfort

  • Mechanisms in inner ear tell eyes where to go then eyes tell balance system how to function

  • It’s hard to balance with eyes closed because information about visual world feeds back into vestibular system

  • To optimize balance: raise one leg and look off short distance and gradually increase gaze – then bring gaze back in closer

  • Tip 1 to enhance balance: combine changes in visual environment while stationary (i.e., standing on one leg)

  • Tip 2 to enhance balance: look at one thing and change body posture

Dynamic Ways To Enhance Balance

  • Vestibular system cares about acceleration – what direction you are moving and how fast

  • One of the best ways to cultivate a better sense of balance is to get into modes we are accelerating forward and tilted – such as skateboard, snowboard, surfboard, lean into turn on bike

  • Tilt the body and the head with respect to earth’s gravitational pull

  • Learning and ability to learn is enhanced in periods after these modes of exercise

Doppler Effect

  • Doppler effect: the way we are experiencing sound when the thing making the sound is moving

  • Firetruck, police, and ambulance sirens are a good example of Doppler

  • We experience sounds closer to us at higher frequency and sounds that are further away at lower frequency

  • Doppler effect is one of the main ways we assess what direction, speed, and trajectory sound is coming from

  • Bats navigate world mostly by making sound and Doppler to communicate

Ringing In Ears (Tinnitus)

  • Tinnitus is subject to context and can vary throughout time of day, environment, sleep and even stress

  • Tinnitus can be caused by disruption to hair cells in the ears

  • Non-prescription treatments: melatonin, gingko biloba, zinc, magnesium

  • Melatonin – 3mg per day

  • Zinc – 50 mg per day

  • Magnesium – 532mg per day

  • Ginkgo biloba seems particularly beneficial in age-related tinnitus

Vertigo, Nausea, Dizziness And Other Ailments

  • Being dizzy and lightheaded have to be differentiated

  • Dizzy: if the world is spinning but you can focus on thumb

  • Lightheaded: if you feel like you’re falling or need to get on the ground

  • Some causes of lightheadedness: dehydrated, low in electrolytes, low blood sugar – try adding a little salt to water

  • To help with nausea, sea sickness, motion sickness: track eyes with the direction you are moving

Aging And Size Of Ears

  • The ears grow throughout your life

  • Biological age can be measured according to ear size – circumference of outer ears (both) in millimeters then take the average and subtract 88.1 x 1.96

  • Biological age = average of circumference of both ears in millimeters – 88.1 x 1.96

Hearing Loss

  • Loud sounds and loud environment will eventually lead to hearing loss

  • Avoid big inflections of sounds above what you have to endure – for example, controlling soundboard at a concert then adding in fireworks

Spacing Effect: Rest To Enhance Learning

  • To learn a new skill, you have to practice and get many repetitions

  • Taking rest within the learning block is also important – e.g., do nothing (not even look at phone) for 10 seconds between reps

  • Rest ties learning and improvement of skill to underlying improvement of neuron

  • Hippocampus and cortex are active during rest and processing repetition at 20x the speed

  • The brain is willing to give us the learning we want as long as we also let it rest


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