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Re: High-frequency hearing in humans

Not wishing to get sidetracked, but given that 'evolutionary (psychology of hearing)' seems to have been implied as a possible reason for our high-frequency hearing, I think it's best to be clear about what this actually means, so that the 'tail doesn't wag the dog'.  It does seem true that our auditory system seems especially well tuned to perceive speech events, and as such, it is tempting to assume that this is because both language and audition developed (evolved) together.  Another (equally valid and perhaps more parsimonious) explanation, which has also been proposed, might be that audition came 'first' and that language has co-opted the existing system in such a way that it has taken advantage of whatever auditory processing limits there were/are (and possible speech production limits as well).  The latter explanation would also explain the observed fine tuning for speech, but crucially, it would posit that we are good at perceiving those speech sounds that we happen to be good at discriminating (and producing).  

In other words, as Kevin suggests, our high-frequency hearing most certainly came about before Liza Minnelli had cause to expound:

"It's Liza with a Z, Not Lisa with an S, 'Cause Lisa with an S Goes "sss" not "zzz"..."


On 2 Feb 2011, at 21:47, Kevin Austin wrote:

Perhaps the question could be reframed as, "What are the evolutionary advantages of perceiving wavelengths of 1.5 to 4 cm, over not perceiving these wavelengths?" I would imagine that the upper limit of human hearing was developed well in advance of having to distinguish "zoo" from "sue".

In my mind's eye [sic], I see wavelength more so than frequency in sound transmission / perception.


On 2011, Feb 2, at 2:14 PM, Piotr Majdak wrote:

Dear list,

thank you all for the many responses. Below I try to sort and summarize the information:

Reasons why extended (>8 kHz) high-frequency hearing may be important (besides sound localization!) :

Piotr Majdak wrote:
Dear list,

I'm looking for the reasons for the good high-frequency* hearing  in humans.

The reasons I have until now are actually the obvious ones:
* Pinna localization cues
* Interaural level cues (ILD, they actually start to work from around 2 kHz)

What do you think: if there were no need for the ILD and pinna cues, would there be any other reasons?


*) say, above 8 kHz

Piotr Majdak
Psychoacoustics and Experimental Audiology
Acoustics Research Institute
Austrian Academy of Sciences
Wohllebengasse 12-14, 1040 Vienna, Austria
Tel.: +43 1 51581-2511
Fax: +43 1 51581-2530