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The secret to better listening? Your right ear

The secret to good listening is often upheld as patience. Wrong, says science. It really lies with your right ear, which audiologists at Auburn University in Alabama have discovered the heavy lifting when you listen. The ahem, heavy listening .

The study, led by Danielle Sacchinelli, found that children and adults alike depended on their right ear for processing and remembering what they hear. An experiment saw listeners fed different auditory inputs simultaneously, either retaining the information in one ear and discarding the words in the other, or being asked to recount both pieces of information. The research showed that children in particular remember what is being said far better when they listen with the right ear. Sounds which enter the right ear are processed by the left side of the brain – the section controlling language, speech and memory.

This dynamic does translate into adulthood, but in a less clear-cut manner. By way of investigation, Sacchinelli's team asked 41 participants (19-48 years of age) to complete both of the aforementioned tasks. Whilst there were no discernible difference between individuals' left and right ear performance at the end of said individual's memory capacity, eleven the number of items listed surpassed an individual's memory span, their performance improved by an average of 8% when they focused on their right ear

Aurora Weaver, a member of the research team and assistant professor at Auburn University, sheds some light on the discovery: "Conventional research shows that right-ear advantage diminishes around age 13, but our results indicate this is related to the demand of the task. Traditional tests include four-to-six pieces of information. As we age, we have better control of our attention to processing information as a result of maturation and our experience. "

The findings could have been far reaching in the medical industry, being used to improve the hearing impaired. "The more we know about listening in demanding environments, and listening effort in general, the better diagnostic tools, auditory management (including hearing aids) and auditory training will become," Sacchinelli attests.

Next on the agenda is gleaning a more robust apprehension of the impact of cognitive decline on the ability to listen. "Cognitive skills, of course, are subject to decline with advanced aging, disease, or trauma," Weaver said. "Therefore, we need to understand the impact of cognitive demands on listening." Hear, hear.

Header image: Soichi Yokoyama, used under Creative Commons

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