Many people would love to have the ability to shut out noise while sleeping, in the same way that we have eyelids to shut out light. If this capability exists in nature, it could offer clues to researchers in the field of sound proofing.

Are there creatures which are capable of 'switching on or off' their hearing capabilities at will? At least partially?

I don't see why this cannot be evolutionarily possible. If perception of sound was necessary to know a predator was approaching while the creature slept, then according to evolution, creatures would not have had the ability to shut out vision either.

  • $\begingroup$ In what sense do you mean "not hearing"? Physically shutting off the hearing mechanism (as with ecolocation), or not allowing the stimulus to propagate to higher brain areas? That is, whether it's "not hearing" or "not paying attention". My friend's dog seems to be able to do the latter, as can many children :-) $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Aug 25, 2017 at 19:23
  • $\begingroup$ I think the "not paying attention" part is something that is a very pertinent concept that should be taken into account for any AI that processes sound and/or images. $\endgroup$
    – Nav
    Aug 26, 2017 at 7:02
  • $\begingroup$ A related subject is how we can give selective attention to some sounds while tuning out others, like picking out one conversation in a crowd, or tuning out background music. Or pick out one instrument or line from a symphony... $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Aug 27, 2017 at 4:28

1 Answer 1



Many echolocating bats use the stapedius muscle to separate the inner ear bones when they emit their call so they are not deafened by their own call. Their ears are highly sensitive to the very frequency they are making so they need a way to protect against it. They are only deafened for 2-8ms but that is enough to protect their hearing while still being able to hear any echo. Source

  • $\begingroup$ You can philosophically start arguing that bats see with their ears when echo-locating, and hence that they do not shut down hearing. +1 nonetheless, nice answer ;-) $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Aug 25, 2017 at 21:40
  • $\begingroup$ Hmm...separating inner bones would reduce the sound. I was also considering that perhaps the true way of shutting out sound would be to block the signals that convey the message to the brain. $\endgroup$
    – Nav
    Aug 26, 2017 at 7:01

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .