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Fundamentals of Audio-Psycho-Phonology

Decades of research led ENT doctor Alfred Tomatis to demonstrate the importance of the auditory organ for human development, as well as the effect of the auditory sense on the human psyche.

What is the Tomatis Effect?

Tomatis began his studies and experiments on human hearing in the late 1940s. Through his father, a renowned opera singer, Tomatis treated many singers with voice problems and professional deafness. After conducting voice and hearing frequency analyses, he came to a surprising conclusion: Poorly heard frequencies were less present in the voice than other frequencies.

This insight led to the First TOMATIS Law: 

"The voice contains, as overtones, only frequencies the ear can perceive."
In order to help his patients with their vocal and auditory problems, Tomatis developed a hearing simulator that allowed him to correct the way they listened, and thus their voice, via various filters and amplifiers. By amplifying the poorly heard frequencies and having the patient sing into a microphone while simultaneously listening to their corrected voice through headphones, the lost frequencies immediately returned to their voice.

The scientist formulated the results of these experiments in the Second

"If the damaged ear is given the possibility to hear correctly the compromised frequencies, these are instantly and unconsciously restored in the vocal emission."
However, as soon as the singer started to sing again without headphones and frequency correction, the voice problems reoccurred. This prompted Tomatis to go further into the matter. He went in search of the "ideal ear" and worked out criteria for the ideal listening curve. After the parameters for the singer’s ideal ear were defined, he designed adevice  - the prototype of the “Electronic Ear" - that could condition the ear and make the Tomatis effect permanent.


This led to the Third TOMATIS Law:

 "Acoustic stimulation, repeated for a predetermined length of time, leads to a permanent change in hearing and hence phonation."
His discoveries were scientifically established by the Physiology Laboratory of the University of Paris. In 1957, the Académie de Médecine de Paris, and in 1960, the Académie des Sciences, published research articles on the Tomatis Effect and the Tomatis Laws (see the article by Raoul Husson and Professor Longchambon in "Mélanges", Rubrique Etudes/Recherches).

The psyche, conductor of listening 

In the course of his studies, Tomatis quickly established that the psyche plays an essential role in the auditory process. For instance, a large-scale study into professional hearing loss among pilots and aircraft engineers let him to the following conclusion: the hearing curve of pilots who liked their job but experienced a professional hearing loss was somewhat different from those who also had a work-related hearing loss, but who wanted to continue working solely for financial reasons. The first group presented a hearing curve ascending at its end. This “positive antenna” in the high frequency range reflected their inner motivation. The curve of the second group dropped sharply at the end. In other words, there was a close connection between the hearing curve of the patients and their psychological state. This psychological aspect became increasingly important in Tomatis' research. The therapeutic effects of the Tomatis effect far exceeded pure auditory stimulation. The improvements were not just limited to auditory and vocal abilities; motor skills, posture and psyche also underwent a lasting positive change. By observing the reactions of his patients during treatment, Tomatis hypothesized that the main characteristics of an individual's hearing patterns had already emerged during the development of hearing, that is, before birth.

When does a fetus begin to hear? 

Professor Tomatis was a pioneer in the field of prenatal hearing research. By the 1950s, he was already asserting that the fetus could hear inside the uterus, an assertion that only earned him the mockery of his colleagues. Today we know that he was right. It is important to note here that the ear - namely both parts, the cochlea for hearing and the vestibule for balance - is connected to the brain via the auditory nerve and is the first sense to be fully developed during pregnancy, at the end of the fifth month of gestation at the latest. At this point the inner ear has reached its final size, making the ear the first sense that sends information to the brain. Auditory signals are essential for brain growth and development. The ear simultaneously lays the foundations for all other forms of perception; after all, these are based on hearing experiences.

What does the fetus hear and how?

In the acoustic universe of the fetus, the mother's voice plays a central role. In fact, it resonates noticeably louder than other voices and covers sounds such as heartbeat, digestion, blood flow, etc.... Due to the fact that the amniotic fluid present in the middle ear inhibits the vibrations of the eardrum, the fetus hears almost exclusively via bone conduction. The resonant properties of bone act as a frequency modulator. The low frequencies are barely conducted, while the high frequencies are amplified. Due to the filtering properties of bone, the mother's voice is rich in high frequencies. It is transmitted via her spine to her pelvis which, like a resonance box, amplifies the high frequencies 2.5 times. As the child descends into the pelvis during the last weeks of pregnancy, the sound transmission through the bones is particularly good. The combination of high frequencies filtered through the fetal skull and sound amplification in the mother's pelvis, creates an optimal condition. The mother's voice is, thus, privileged. All other external sounds (voice, music, etc.) occupy a secondary place within the auditory experience of the unborn child. 

The fetus not only perceives the sound, rhythm and melody of the mother’s voice, but also its full emotional spectrum. Is the mother well-balanced, joyful and happy? Or is she sad, anxious or depressed? The child experiences this emotional spectrum as his own emotions. It cannot yet distinguish between his mother and itself. To illustrate the unity of mother and child, Tomatis said that "Mother IS child, child IS mother". With mainly positive and pleasant signals, a successful dialogue develops in the uterus, awakening in the fetus a sense of security and primal confidence. These basic perceptual experiences awaken in the child a desire to listen and communicate.

What Tomatis has long proclaimed and defended has now been demonstrated thanks to a Stanford University’s study

The ear - not just for hearing

When we mention the ear we immediately think of hearing. But the ear has other equally important functions that we seek to strengthen during a listening therapy.
Thanks to the organ of balance, the ear controls balance, coordination, muscle tone and every muscle in the body. It controls the eyes during reading, as well as the arm, hand and fingers during writing. It is responsible for upright posture and continuously transmits signals about how we move in space. The ear also controls the senses of time, rhythm and spatial awareness.

Like a power station, the ear is also responsible for powering the brain and therefore our entire body. Tomatis compared the ear to a dynamo "that converts the stimuli it receives into neurological energy that powers the brain". High frequencies, in particular, provide a direct energy boost and stimulate cortical activity. This "charging effect" is vitalizing and invigorating, and manifests itself in an "awakened" mind. 

Humans hear only what they want to hear. Tomatis discovered that the psyche controls the desire to listen. We cannot turn off our hearing. Unlike our eyes, our ears are always "open". Day and night, we are exposed to the sounds and noises of our environment. Yet, we do not consciously experience everything we hear. Humans only hear what they want to hear. Wanting to hear or to “listen,” as opposed to just hearing, is an active, intentional process, similar to focusing our eyes on an object. The decision to focus our hearing - to listen, in other words - engages our attention and encourages conscious listening towards others. Listening means wanting to communicate. This leads the whole being to a state of readiness, allows the cochlea to perform a correct analysis, causes the body to stand erect, and gets the mind to be alert and present. 

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