How Does the Brain Interpret Sound?

Those of us who have normal hearing would hardly ever think about how we process sound, but like most things about our bodies, it is a fascinating line of inquiry. It is often the case that we don’t bother about things until they malfunction in our lives or the life of a loved one. A recent study into how our brains process sound shows similarities with how our vision works. Rhythmic oscillating patterns pick up vision and sounds and then interpret them via a strobe-like effect in the brain. It has been compared to the flickering frames of an old silent movie, in one learned journal article I read recently. No wonder then that our perception of reality is so open to a wide variety of interpretations by individuals. How does the brain interpret sound?

Auditory Perception is Not Constant, But Cyclical

The researchers in this study pointed to the positive outcome of this strange process being that it helps us focus on the most salient sounds in our environment. It may be like a radar effect picking up the important sounds around us. It, also, assists us in placing the sounds in three-dimensional space. Auditory perception is not constant at one level, but experiences peaks and troughs. We have a cyclical perception of the world around us. These cycles happen fast, though, at about six cycles per second. The researchers were from the University of Sydney.

Sounds Oscillate Between Ears

Sound oscillates between each ear, swapping over every tenth of a second. This sounds like an evolutionary development in human beings, which has allowed us to immediately recognise danger from both sides by continually checking each space. It seems, our eyes and our ears, trick our perception into thinking we have a continuous consciousness, when it is not seamless at all, in reality. The findings showed that auditory decision making, also, oscillates. Building strong foundations within our knowledge of how our brains function will ultimately serve us well.

The Brain Responds to Music

The ramifications of these ground-breaking findings have not been explored, as yet, but may result in some interesting outcomes down the track. As human beings we concentrate limited cognitive resources on specific sounds and sights to evaluate the world around us. The strobe light metaphor is a vivid illustration of our brain’s interpretation of the sounds around our body. It means we are attuned to shifting focus wherever it is needed most. The brain’s plasticity is literally amazing, as it responds to things like music, language, and the sounds around our immediate universe. Sound processing is clearly an important neurological marker in the life of human beings.