Hearing is the subjective experience of sound. In humans, hearing begins before birth and develops into adolescence. During childhood, hearing plays an important role in the development of speech, language, and social relationships; and in adulthood, it is critical for everyday communication and environmental awareness. This entry defines the mechanism of hearing and basic detection of sound, examines hearing throughout the lifespan—from the prenatal period, infancy, childhood, and adulthood—and then discusses issues related to hearing loss.

Mechanisms of Hearing and Basic Detection

Sound in the environment enters the ear canal, is conducted through the middle ear, and is neurally encoded by sensory hair cells in the inner ear (cochlea). Sound is encoded tonotopically; this means that different frequency components of sound are represented by different populations ...

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