Human Auditory Ecology: Extending Hearing Research to the Perception of Natural Soundscapes by Humans in Rapidly Changing Environments

Trends Hear. 2023 Jan-Dec:27:23312165231212032. doi: 10.1177/23312165231212032.


Research in hearing sciences has provided extensive knowledge about how the human auditory system processes speech and assists communication. In contrast, little is known about how this system processes "natural soundscapes," that is the complex arrangements of biological and geophysical sounds shaped by sound propagation through non-anthropogenic habitats [Grinfeder et al. (2022). Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution. 10: 894232]. This is surprising given that, for many species, the capacity to process natural soundscapes determines survival and reproduction through the ability to represent and monitor the immediate environment. Here we propose a framework to encourage research programmes in the field of "human auditory ecology," focusing on the study of human auditory perception of ecological processes at work in natural habitats. Based on large acoustic databases with high ecological validity, these programmes should investigate the extent to which this presumably ancestral monitoring function of the human auditory system is adapted to specific information conveyed by natural soundscapes, whether it operate throughout the life span or whether it emerges through individual learning or cultural transmission. Beyond fundamental knowledge of human hearing, these programmes should yield a better understanding of how normal-hearing and hearing-impaired listeners monitor rural and city green and blue spaces and benefit from them, and whether rehabilitation devices (hearing aids and cochlear implants) restore natural soundscape perception and emotional responses back to normal. Importantly, they should also reveal whether and how humans hear the rapid changes in the environment brought about by human activity.

Keywords: auditory ecology; environmental awareness; health; hearing impairment; human auditory system; natural soundscape; restorative environments.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustics
  • Auditory Perception
  • Cochlear Implantation*
  • Hearing*
  • Humans
  • Sound