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When your brain is overloaded, you hear better with your right ear

If you really want to hear something correctly, you may want to try to tilt your head to direct the sounds in the right ear rather than the left.

According to new research, when there are many things happening and the brain strives for cognitive loading, humans rely more on their right ear to process and retain audio information.

This is known as the dichotic advantage of the right ear, and we have known it for some time. It was first described in 1967, and connected to the left hemisphere of the brain, which, in neurotypic people, is dominant for language processing.

In 1973, researchers published an article in which they found a dichotomous advantage in the right ear children between the ages of 5 and 13 – and was already in place when they were five years old.

In addition, a 1974 study found that increasing the difficulty of listening increases the advantage of the right ear.

Dichotic hearing tests can also be used to help diagnose auditory processing disorders and to understand disorders that can produce auditory hallucinations, such as schizophrenia.

Said tests include feeding two different streams of audio information through headphones, one in each ear. These transmissions are usually speech, a voice that reads sentences or series of numbers, and test subjects have the task of trying to focus on one side (separation) or both (integration), repeating the words.

In this new research, the authors wanted to determine whether the advantage of the right ear persists even with the kind of background noise and interruptions that humans experience in everyday life, rather than the focused setting in which they are normally performed these tests.

"The more we know about listening in demanding environments and listening to the overall effort, the better diagnostic tools, auditory management (including hearing aids) and auditory training will become," said lead author Danielle Sacchinelli of the University of Auburn in Alabama.

And, although it is clear that the advantage of the right ear persists in adulthood, the authors also wanted to determine how well it holds.

This is due to how the advantage of the right ear develops. We hear slightly different sounds in each ear, and they combine in the auditory system. However, children's hearing systems have more difficulties with this complicated task, so they depend more on the right.

Adult auditory systems are better at processing and combining auditory signals, so the advantage of the right ear decreases. .

"As we get older, we have better control of our attention to process information as a result of maturation and our experience," said co-author Aurora Weaver.

Researchers enrolled 41 adults between the ages of 19 and 28 to participate in a series of dichotic separation and integration listening tests. With each subsequent test, the number of items in the list that is recited through the headphones increased by one.

What they discovered was that there was no difference between how well the participants retained the information they received in their left ear or in their right ear, when the number of items was equal to or less than the capacity memory of the person.

However, when the number of elements exceeded his memory capacity, his ability to recall elements that were heard in the right ear was greater than his ability to recall elements that were heard in the left ear. On average, this improvement was 8 percent, but in some people it was as high as 40 percent.

"Conventional research shows that the advantage of the right ear decreases around 13 years, but our results indicate that this is related to the demand for the task," Weaver said.

"Cognitive skills, of course, are subject to decline with advanced aging, disease or trauma, so we need to better understand the impact of cognitive demands on listening."

The team presented its research at the 174th meeting of the Acoustic Society of America.

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