Monday, December 04, 2000

Do you hear what I hear?

Here’s a new medical study from the ‘But we already knew that’ file: Men, researchers have found, only listen with half their brain.

Women, when listening, show activity in both the left and right temporal lobes. Men, in only the left. Since the left lobe is the one most closely associated with language, one wonders what women are doing over there in their right brains. Empathizing? Intuiting? Judging? Exercising telepathic abilities? Thinking about what to have for dinner? Silently willing small children to be quiet so she can keep listening?

Maybe women’s brains are just organized better, so that they share the load evenly. Everybody knows that if you use one side more than the other, the other gets flabby, and who wants a flabby brain? Keeping things even is more efficient, and leaves you more brain left over to think about other things. Researchers noted that women can listen to two conversations at once, and maybe it’s because they give over more of their brain to the task. Of course, the researchers being male, they also posited that women use more of their brain to listen because listening is harder for them.

Their wives probably told them that was hooey, but they weren’t listening. Perhaps the most surprising part of this study was that men listen at all. No wonder only half their brains were active--they were forced to actually sit in a lab, with earphones on, and do nothing but listen. What torture! No newspaper, no ball game, no distractions, just pure unadulterated listening! Half their brains were probably in shock. And it’s not like they had to pay full attention anyway--they knew they could always ask their wives later, “Hey, what was that stuff we were listening too, anyway.”

And maybe that is the ultimate reason why women use more brain to listen--they’re listening for two.

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