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Part of the ear containing organs of hearing and equilibrium. The bony labyrinth has three sections (semicircular canals, vestibule, and cochlea); within each structure is a corresponding part of the membranous labyrinth (semicircular ducts, two saclike structures in the vestibule, and cochlear duct). Sound vibrations are transmitted from the middle ear through the membrane-covered oval window to fluid in the snail-shell-shaped cochlea, whose motion stimulates hair cells in the cochlea. The hair cells trigger nerve impulses that travel to the brain, which interprets them as sound. The vestibule and semicircular canals also have organs with hair cells. Those in the vestibule indicate the head's position with respect to the rest of the body (seeproprioception). The three semicircular canals, at right angles to each other, signal motion of the head in three-dimensional space. Continued stimulation after motion stops causes a mismatch with visual input, experienced as dizziness or motion sickness.
Variants of INNER EAR
inner ear or labyrinth of the ear
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on inner ear, visit Britannica.com.