The eardrum moves when they eyes move: A multisensory effect on the mechanics of hearing

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

A new publication from the Groh Lab was published in bioRxiv and featured in New Scientists in July.

Interactions between sensory pathways such as the visual and auditory systems are known to occur in the brain, but where they first occur is uncertain. Here we show a novel multimodal interaction evident at the eardrum. Ear canal microphone measurements in humans (n=19 ears in 16 subjects) and monkeys (n=5 ears in 3 subjects) performing a saccadic eye movement task to visual targets indicated that the eardrum moves in conjunction with the eye movement. The eardrum motion was oscillatory and began as early as 10 ms before saccade onset in humans or with saccade onset in monkeys. These eardrum movements, which we dub Eye Movement Related Eardrum Oscillations (EMREOs), occurred in the absence of a sound stimulus. The EMREOs' amplitude and phase depended on the direction and horizontal amplitude of the saccade. They lasted throughout the saccade and well into subsequent periods of steady fixation. We discuss the possibility that the mechanisms underlying EMREOs create eye movement-related binaural cues that may aid the brain in evaluating the relationship between visual and auditory stimulus locations as the eyes move.