Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
In human beings, hearing is performed by the ears, which also perform the function of balance, a sense in itself but not one of the traditional list (due to Aristotle). This is in common with most mammals. Many other organisms also have some form of hearing, either by some sort of ear, or by other structures, or by a combination.
A common rule of thumb used to describe human hearing is that human hearing is sensitive in the range of frequency of 20 Hz to 20 kHz, though this varies significantly with age, occupational hearing damage, and gender; some individuals are able to hear up to 22 kHz and perhaps beyond, while others are limited to about 16 kHz. Frequencies capable of being heard by humans are called audio or referred to as sonic. Frequencies higher than audio are referred to as ultrasonic, while frequencies below audio are referred to as infrasonic.
Some organisms are able to hear ultrasound and/or infrasound. Some bats use ultrasound for echo location while in flight. Dogs are able to hear ultrasound, which is the principle of 'silent' dog whistles. Snakes sense infrasound through their bellies, and there is evidence that whales and elephants may use it for communication. See sound for hearing ranges of various organisms.
There is some evidence of human ability to unconsiously detect ultrasound and infrasound. Infrasound has been found to affect the emotions. Some organ pipes reach as low as 16 Hz, which is 'felt' more than 'heard'.
- "Explaining hearing adequately has proven a singularly difficult task. One would almost ensure oneself a Nobel prize by presenting a theory explaining satisfactorily no more than the perception of pitch and loudness." -- A. S. & E. S. Reber, The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology (3rd Edn., 2001)
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