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April 12, 2008 6:11 PM   Subscribe

Whenever I yawn while listening to music, the music becomes not only distant, but out of tune. Why is that? My mother says it happens to her as well.
posted by Corduroy to Science & Nature (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
That happens to me. I always assumed it was because when I move my jaw that much it changes the shape of my ear canal (or sometimes makes my ears pop).
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:22 PM on April 12, 2008


Your answer is in this paper.

"Simulaneously, (with other physiological actions) the eustachian tubes open up, which lowers hearing acuity briefly"
posted by louche mustachio at 6:24 PM on April 12, 2008


I have never noticed this, but now I have to try...

Waves travel at different velocities through different media. Sound waves traveling through different densities of air would change velocity and therefore frequency (this is why helium pitches your voice up and sulphur hexafluoride, down). When you yawn, I think pressure is built up inside your middle ear middle ear. It stands to reason then that this would cause a slight shift in pitch of everything you hear.
posted by phrontist at 6:26 PM on April 12, 2008


the eustachian tubes open up, which lowers hearing acuity briefly

Ah, but that doesn't explain a pitch change. I can't think of any physical means that would cause a pitch shift other than pressure differential. All sorts of things could cause the sound to be colored (amplified or attenuated in some frequency ranges).
posted by phrontist at 6:27 PM on April 12, 2008


Doesn't happen to me, I just tried it. Maybe it happens to some people, but not all, depending on ear shape?
posted by InsanePenguin at 6:28 PM on April 12, 2008


Are you certain it's an actual pitch shift you're hearing and not a frequency response shift towards the lower end from the open eustachian tubes?
posted by bunnytricks at 6:33 PM on April 12, 2008


Yawning makes music go slightly flat (lower pitch) for me, every time.
posted by svenx at 6:42 PM on April 12, 2008


If it changes the shape of the cochlea in some way, then the resonance might change, which would mean that a given frequency would energize a different nerve than normal.
posted by Class Goat at 7:07 PM on April 12, 2008


If it changes the shape of the cochlea in some way, then the resonance might change, which would mean that a given frequency would energize a different nerve than normal.

Yeah, distinguishing these requires a bit of a trained ear... but the difference would be very clear. If it's a pressure based pitch shift everything will shift up in pitch, like a pushing a record forward a little bit. If it's due to resonance it would be a shift in the relative strength of tones... like clasping your hands over your ears quickly with a lot of background noise (I used to do this as a kid in the cafeteria all the time... it sounds really cool if you do it quickly).
posted by phrontist at 7:29 PM on April 12, 2008


Good one phrontist! I just started reading James Joyce's Potrait of the Artist as a Young Man where there's a lovely description of the protagonist doing just that, over and over. I had to put the book down and try it right away.
posted by Coaticass at 4:44 AM on April 13, 2008


The cochlea is encased in bone; yawning isn't going to change its shape.
posted by mimo at 9:42 PM on April 13, 2008


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