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A different drum: ears fall in step with eye movements

Scientists discover changes in gaze trigger eardrum vibrations, even in the absence of sound

25 Apr 2018 by Selina Powell

Researchers have discovered that simply moving the eyes, even in a silent room, prompts the eardrums to move too.

Duke University neuroscientists found that the eardrums start to vibrate slightly before eye movement and continue for a short time after.

Larger eye movements trigger bigger vibrations within the eardrums than smaller eye movements.

“These observations suggest that a vision-related process modulates the first stage of hearing,” the authors wrote in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

They suggest that the eardrum vibrations may help the brain to connect sights and sounds despite changes in the spatial relationship between the ears and the eyes.

The research supports the idea that motion in the ears and the eyes are controlled by the same motor commands within the brain.

Study author, Jennifer Goh, explained: “It’s like the brain is saying, ‘I’m going to move the eyes, I better tell the eardrums, too.” 

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