Your ears are not equal: Research finds people process information better from the right side
12/24/2017 // Ralph Flores // Views

Everyone the world over knows Shakespeare's "lend me your ears" quote from the play Julius Caesar, but a recently published study from audiology researchers from Auburn University may change that definition to just lending your right ear.

The study, which was presented at the 174th Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America, revealed that people rely on their right ear to process and retain information that they hear.

“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,” explained study co-author Danielle Sacchinelli.

Listening is an elaborate process. Defined as the ability to capture sound and interpret it into understandable thought, it usually is broken down into five stages:

  • Receiving is a two part-process: sound waves travel through the eardrum and is registered (hearing) and are attributed to words (attending).
  • Understanding involves figuring out the meaning and context of the words that were received.
  • Evaluating occurs when the listener judges the content of the message and begins to form an opinion.
  • Responding is defined as the stage where the person gives either verbal or non-verbal feedback to what he has heard.
  • Remembering is when the person places the information he received for long-term memory. (Related: The Power Of Tact and Active Listening)

The team built up their research on dichotic listening tests, which are used to determine auditory processing disorders where the brain experiences challenges in processing what is heard.


Standard dichotic tests are used as a model for "selective auditory attention." In these kinds of tests, two discreet sound sequences are conveyed to each ear simultaneously. The series used are sentences, words, or digits. Participants are then asked to either focus on the information delivered in one ear while ignoring the other one (known as separation) or repeat all of the words heard (known as integration).

Early studies had already opined that children were able to comprehend and recall what was said to them when they used their right ear to listen. Researchers attributed this to the left hemisphere of the brain which governs speech, language development, and some parts of memory development. This is true for children between the ages of five and 13: As they have yet to develop integration fully, they depend heavily on information processed on the right ear.

Researchers for this study wanted to determine if this effect is carried over into adulthood. To test this theory, 41 individuals aged 19 to 28 were asked to undergo both dichotic separation and integration tests. Researchers found out that if the task fell under the threshold of a person's memory (or memory span), participants will be able to process information using both ears. However, if the task (in this case, an item list) was higher than a person could be able to remember immediately, a person will be able to recall things they have heard via their right ear. In the study, participants who were subjected to item lists above their memory span were able to improve their performance by up to 40 percent when they focused their listening on their right ear.

“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,” said Aurora Weaver, a professor at Auburn University and another member of the research team. “As we age, we have better control of our attention for processing information as a result of maturation and our experience.”

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