hearing how does our hearing really work

Different levels of hearing were first noticed at the close of World War II by Dr Ramsdell while he was working in Deshon Army Hospital in Butler, Pennsylvania, which was a veteran’s Administration Hospital.

He had the opportunity to observe young adults who had lost some or all of their hearing whilst on active service, and recognised the four stages of how we use our hearing, particularly the importance of the ‘feeling of oneness with an active environment’. These young adults constantly complained that the world seemed dead.

Ramsdell became aware that we rely on our hearing for:

understanding speech – the symbolic level. Informs, educates and entertains.
appreciating sounds that please us – the aesthetic level. Gives pleasure.
recognising sounds that alert us – the warning level. Alerts and prepares.
recognising the changing background sounds of the world around us – the primitive level. Auditory background for daily living.

You are sitting in a room near an open window which looks out onto a busy road. The sound of traffic is comforting or irritating depending your your reaction to the noise. All the same you know you can hear it. Primitive level.

You remember that you have forgotten something for a meal you are making and you decide to drive to a local shop. You listen to the car radio which tells you that the traffic is heavy on the main road. Sure enough, the noise of the traffic is louder as you approach. The spoken word and the background sound mean the same thing – heavy traffic. Symbolic level.

You hear a siren and know that you will need to pull over and wait for the emergency vehicle to pass. This is because the sound of the siren has alerted you and given you an instruction.