Studies in the physiology of hearing have revealed a most significant fact, that is, that the aural harmonics studied so long by psychologists as one of the peculiar attributes of the hearing process actually arise in the hair cells of the organ of Corti.1 The importance of this is that by using the pyschologist's techniques for detecting and measuring these subjective tones the range of action of the hair cells themselves can be determined.
The type of distortion that produces harmonics is nonlinear distortion. This occurs when a driven system fails to respond with proportional increases to further increases in amplitude of the driving force. In the ear the first structures to overload in this manner are those of the organ of Corti. The structures of the middle ear and the fluids of the inner ear respond in a remarkably linear fashion up to an amplitude of sound vibration
LAWRENCE M, YANTIS PA. Thresholds of Overload in Normal and Pathological Ears. AMA Arch Otolaryngol. 1956;63(1):67–77. doi:10.1001/archotol.1956.03830070069009
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