Safe Listening Environments
Earphones and headphones allow you to enjoy music wherever you are. When playing music, headphones also mask ambient sounds and isolate you from your environment. Custom earphones, which are made by taking impressions of your ears, represent the paragon of isolation.
Your left and right ears cooperate to process the sounds around you. Your sense of sight is limited by your immediate field of vision, but your ears monitor up, down, and all around you, in more than three-hundred and sixty degrees.
The sound you hear on your right originates from a source on the right. That explanation may sound facile, but the process your auditory system follows is quite complex. A sound is first emitted from a source. When it reaches your right ear, it vibrates the eardrum. By the time it enters the left eardrum its volume has, to a certain extent, diminished. And, it reaches the left ear after a slight time delay. This chain of events convinces the brain to think, “Why, that sound is coming from the right side!”
What if we apply the same principles to the use of earphones? Let’s suppose you insert an earphone into your right ear and listen to the radio. Your ear is now effectively plugged. The sounds coming from the right side of your immediate environment are not clearly ‘caught’ by your right ear. They channel around your head and enter your left ear in a more direct fashion. This disconnect may cause your brain to think that the sound originates from the left. Or, due to the loss of left/right balance, your brain may not even be able to place the direction of the sound.
This is the sort of confusion that can occur by plugging just one ear. Your senses: hearing, smell, sight, and touch, work in conjunction with one another; blockage in one ear shouldn’t completely confuse you. Blocking both ears, however, can. Observe the following example to better understand how sight and sound work together. A entryway lamp flashes at your right. A sound rolls in on your left. In this case, you should still be able sense the sound coming from the left with your right ear. This is the synchrony of the senses of sight and hearing.
In other words, even without completely leaning on your sense of hearing, you are able to deduce the origin of a sound. Safe listening environments are one thing, dangerous environments, such as streets, are another. Specifically in environments where your ears catch important information that your eyes cannot see, it is extremely important to obtain information about potential hazards as quickly as possible. This is especially true when you are walking along a street where car traffic approaches you from behind.
Identifying the source and nature of a sound is more important than merely hearing it. The more information you are able to process about a sound, the better you are able to make safe and correct judgements about it and your immediate environment. Your ears help you sift threatening environmental variables from non-threatening ones. Informed ears help the brain decide which sounds require other senses, such as sight, to react to a situation, and which do not. You are best able to defend yourself from the dangers around you when your brain can make informed subconscious decisions about your environment.
The ear plays an important part in conscious activities such as the enjoyment of conversation and music. It also plays an active role in the subconscious discovery and identification of threats. When in dangerous environments, it is of utmost importance for you to not obstruct the function of your ears.