Did you know you can hear through your skin?

  • Marie Claire is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission on some of the items you choose to buy.
  • Tactile sensations can affect how sound is heard, say researchers in Canada, which means humans ‘hear' through their skin...

    We not only hear with our ears, but also through our skin, according to a new study.

    A study found that inaudible puffs of air delivered alongside certain sounds influenced what participants thought they were listening to. The findings may lead to better aids for the hard of hearing, experts said.

    It is already well known that visual cues from a speaker’s face can enhance or interfere with how a person hears what is being said.

    In the latest study, researchers at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver compared sounds which when spoken are accompanied by a small inaudible breath of air, such as ‘pa’ and ‘ta’ with sounds which do not such as ‘ba’ and ‘da’.

    Participants were divided into groups, with one group hearing the syllables while a puff of air was blown onto their hand, the other had air blown onto the neck, and the control group heard the sounds with no air.

    About 10 percent of the time when air was puffed onto the skin, participants mistakenly perceived the unaspirated syllables as being their aspirated equivalents. So when the guy said ‘ba,’ such participants would indicate they heard ‘pa.’ The control group didn’t show such mistaken perceptions.

    It suggests people also use tactile sensory information alongside other clues to decipher what is being said.

    Study leader Dr Bryan Gick said his team would now work to develop a hearing aid incorporating the findings. ‘All we need is a pneumatic device that can produce air puffs aimed at the neck at the right times based on acoustic input into the hearing aid, and then a set of experiments to test the efficacy.’


    Reading now