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Scientists Discover That Eyes Talk to Your Ears

By Albulena Murturi


29 January 2024

Eyes Talk to Your Ears

©️ Anastasia Kazakova / Freepik

Our body is this incredible teamwork of different parts, all pitching in for our health. Think about your eyes and ears for a minute. You would not know how they are connected, right? That is where science comes in. Scientists at Duke University have made a fascinating discovery that is proof that your eyes talk to your ears. But what does this mean exactly? And what could this indicate about our perception of the world? How did they measure that? This article will try to answer these and other questions related to the discovery.

Eyes Talk to Your Ears
©️ DC Studio / Freepik

Eyes Talk to Your Ears. But, How?!

The lead researcher, Jennifer Groh, Ph.D., senior author of the new report, and a professor in the departments of psychology & neuroscience as well as neurobiology at Duke University found out that they can figure out where someone is looking just by listening to their ears. This revelation challenges previous beliefs about the function of ears and suggests that these ear sounds may aid in synchronizing sight and sound perception.

In 2018, Dr. Groh’s team found that ears make a faint noise when the eyes move. She explains that the subtle sounds emitted by the ears when the eyes move can be recorded with a microphone in the ear canal. Their new study demonstrates that these ear sounds can reveal the direction of a person’s gaze. The sounds are thought to be triggered by the brain coordinating eye movements with either muscle contractions in the ear or activation of hair cells.

“You can actually estimate the movement of the eyes, the position of the target that the eyes are going to look at, just from recordings made with a microphone in the ear canal,” said Dr. Groh.

The Meaning Behind it All

The purpose of these ear sounds is not entirely clear, but Dr. Groh believes they might enhance perception. The team speculates that the brain uses these sounds to match up where sights and sounds are located, even when the eyes move independently of the head and ears.

This discovery opens up possibilities for new clinical hearing tests and a deeper understanding of how the brain integrates visual and auditory information. Dr. Groh suggests that decoding these ear sounds could help identify malfunctions in specific parts of the ear. This could guide to targeted clinical tools for assessment.

Dr. Groh is now exploring whether these ear sounds play a role in perception, particularly in individuals with hearing or vision loss. Additionally, the team is investigating whether people without sensory impairments can generate ear signals that predict their performance on tasks that require mapping auditory information onto a visual scene. Such an example would be spotting an ambulance while driving.

Groh mentioned that some people consistently have a clear and easy-to-measure signal every day. She thinks those individuals might do really well in tasks that involve both seeing and hearing, unlike others whose signals vary more.

Eyes Talk to Your Ears
©️ Freepik

How Was it Measured?

The study involved a simple eye test where participants tracked a moving dot on a computer screen. Ear sounds were recorded using microphone-embedded earbuds, and eye movements were tracked simultaneously. The researchers found unique signatures in the ear sounds for different directions of eye movement. This enabled them to accurately determine where participants were looking by analyzing the sound waves.

Similar Study

Our brain uses information from both our eyes and ears to understand the world around us. When we move our eyes, it affects how we perceive sounds. A similar study went further to find out something called Eye Movement-Related Eardrum Oscillations (EMREOs). Basically, these are changes in ear pressure that happen when our eyes move. These EMREOs carry info about the direction and position of our eye movements.

The big question is: why do these ear changes happen, and how do they impact our hearing? They might be caused by certain muscles in the ear getting signals from our brain. But exactly how eyes talk to your ears is still a mystery.

Here’s a possible scenario: when our brain sends signals for our eyes to move, it also sends signals to the ear muscles. This might change how our ear “hears” things, affecting the timing, volume, or filtering of sounds. So, the brain keeps the ears informed about what our eyes are doing. This could help us process sounds better.

Even though we don’t fully understand all the details, this connection between eye movements and ear changes might be a way our brain coordinates information from our senses. It’s like a behind-the-scenes communication system that helps us make sense of the world, even if we don’t notice it happening.

You may also want to read: AI Technology Restores Paralyzed Woman’s Voice – Science Wins!

Albulena Murturi

An enthusiastic learner rediscovering the joy of writing.