How Hearing Works

How Hearing Works

The outer ear – the ear you can see – referred to as the pinna or auricle is connected by its ear canal to the middle ear. The eardrum or tympanic membrane separates the outer and middle ears.

Binaural Hearing - how hearing works

The middle ear contains the three ossicles which are tiny connected bones: the malleus, incus & stapes (referred to as the hammer, anvil & stirrup because of their respective shapes)

The inner ear’s entrance is an oval window and the footplate of the stapes bone covers this opening. Also known as the cochlea, the inner ear is lined with cilia, microscopic hairs and filled with fluid. The inner ear is the actual hearing organ of the body.


The outer ear’s primary purpose is to collect and carry sounds in the form of waves or vibrations to the middle ear. The impact of sound waves traveling through the outer ear canal and striking the eardrum creates vibrations thereby converting the sound waves into mechanical energy.

This energy pulsates into the middle ear where the malleus, incus, and stapes move because of the rhythm of the eardrum. Movement of the smallest bone, the stapes, causes the oval window separating the middle ear from the inner ear to vibrate in turn. When the oval window vibrates, fluid in the inner ear transmits the vibrations into the inner ear.

Vibrating sound waves entering the inner ear cause ripples in the fluid, bending the cilia. The movement sets off nerve impulses that are passed through the auditory nerve to the hearing center of the brain. This center translates these impulses into what the brain recognizes as sound, which is how we hear.

Auditory Transduction

Watch and learn about the inside of the ear and how it’s mapped. The video also demonstrates what happens when frequency ranges hit different parts of the inner ear.

This video also describes how the sound waves travel through each portion of the ear and how hair cells translate the vibrations they induce into nerve impulses.