Last modified on 12 February 2009, at 22:14

Sensory Neuroscience: Hearing and speech/Outer & middle ear/pinna

The pinna is a directional sound collector. In some species it also serves secondary functions, such as dissipating heat.

The pinna is the visible part of the ear that resides outside of the head.


The purpose of the pinna is to collect sound. It does so by acting as a funnel, amplifying the sound and directing it to the ear canal. In mammals like cats and dogs, it is obviously highly directional, but even in humans, the pinna functions as a directional sound collector. The "sweet spot" for which the pinna best collects sound is called the acoustic axis or the acoustic fovea. In various species, the pinna can also signal mood and radiate heat.

The frequency at which the pinna becomes a directional sound collector can be calculated since it does so at frequencies such that the pinna is larger than the wavelength:

\lambda \approx 0.25 m

\lambda = \frac{c}{f}

f = \frac{c}{\lambda}

f = \frac{343 m/s}{0.025 \cdot 4 m}

f = 3430 Hz