Stop, Collaborate, and Listen: How Movement Affects Hearing
Isn’t it just the worst when you’re trying to have a conversation in the car with someone with the windows down and the wind blowing? The outside noise is so loud that your first impulse is to roll the windows up, right? Well, our brains actually have a similar response to distracting noise, apparently. We can automatically mute our own noises from personal movements to listen.
A recent study conducted by Duke University, that appeared online on Nature, studied how one’s motor cortex (the part of the brain that controls movement) could severely affect the auditory cortex (the part of the brain controlling hearing.) More simply put, they were looking to see the relationship between a person’s movements and their ability to listen. Scientists studied the interplay of movement and auditory functions to see how the part of the brain that responds to movement can actually coordinate it’s actions in anticipation so that it can tweak its “listening levels.”
Think about it this way. When you’re engaging in a conversation with someone, the first thing you begin doing when they are about to talk is to stop. You stop talking and stop moving. When we do this, we are eliminating any outside noise created by our own body’s movements.
The findings may be helpful in gaining knowledge of how our brain communication between the auditory and motor cortexes during speech or musical performance. Additionally, it may lend some valuable insight into the auditory hallucinations (voices in their heads) that schizophrenic people suffer from.
Richard Mooney PhD, a professor of neurobiology at Duke University, headed the research. They first began with mouse testing. They wanted to first try out tests on brain slices of mice that were knocked out with anesthesia and then compared them to the activity of brains of mice that were awake. The team found that whenever mice had any sort of movements; grooming, walking, etc., neurons in their sensory cortex were dampened in response to tones played in other animals. This was compared to the way their brain’s neurons were when the mice were at rest. Mooney believes that while the auditory cortex is presenting working (listening), our brains are able to suppress the noise we make with our bodies. In other words, our brains could actually be “pressing the mute button” on our own body sounds in order to hear better!
The researchers discovered that movement suppressed the neurons responsible for dulling the outside noise pollution. This makes me wonder…would we be better listeners if we hear things while we exercise? Also, what could these findings mean in regards to new advances in speech pathology? Therapy sessions in the future just may see some science in ACTION.