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Old 12-29-2007, 10:32 PM
Nanoda Nanoda is offline
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Listening to something with left vs. right ear (neurological q.)

Does it make a difference if I listen to something with my left ear vs. my right ear vs. both ears? I was walking to the store listening to some NASA podcasts, contemplating removing an earbud to decrease my chances of splattitude whilst crossing the street.

Now, I know about various amusing experiments one can do with split-brain patients to demonstrate the importance of the corpus callosum in inter-hemispherial communication, but even with an intact brain, it would seem to me that the side of the brain receiving the information would still have a more complete understanding of the input.

So... would I perhaps muse upon slightly different facets of a topic if introduced solely through my left vs. right side? Or does the corpus callosum have sufficient bandwidth to make input type a moot point?
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Old 12-30-2007, 04:34 AM
Dr Katlington Dr Katlington is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nanoda
Does it make a difference if I listen to something with my left ear vs. my right ear vs. both ears? I was walking to the store listening to some NASA podcasts, contemplating removing an earbud to decrease my chances of splattitude whilst crossing the street.

Now, I know about various amusing experiments one can do with split-brain patients to demonstrate the importance of the corpus callosum in inter-hemispherial communication, but even with an intact brain, it would seem to me that the side of the brain receiving the information would still have a more complete understanding of the input.

So... would I perhaps muse upon slightly different facets of a topic if introduced solely through my left vs. right side? Or does the corpus callosum have sufficient bandwidth to make input type a moot point?
Depends which ear is better.

I think your question has alot of factors to contemplate on. When it comes to ears, we have two for a reason. We take two signals from the environment that we live and process them to give us one sound picture. There are alot of benefits to listening binaurally such as, better localization of sound . this takes into account head shadow and the pinna effect, but also the natural resonance of the ear canal. When it comes to listening to background noise vs speech these play a key role. If you have a hearing impairment ( one dead ear ) then you will have a lot more trouble in background noise. In terms of yourself walking down the street with both ears within normal range ( meaning no hearing impairment and no mental one either ) then i think volume and upward spread of masking are your main areas to worry about. all depends on what you're listening to. speech you may have trouble, it will probably be harder to concentrate, but the the dB output of the car is probably high enough for you to detect with one ear, and to localize where it is.

I probably went off track, i tired to explain that to a class once and a couple of students fell asleep
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Old 12-30-2007, 04:40 AM
Dr Katlington Dr Katlington is offline
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and when i say localize, then the side where the sound is coming from can be interpreted by both ears, its the time difference at which the sound in interpreted by the brain, that shows us where the sound is coming from.
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Old 12-30-2007, 05:12 AM
crowmanyclouds crowmanyclouds is offline
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Is there a dominant ear the way there's a dominant eye?

CMC +fnord!
I've noticed that if I try to listen to the phone with my right ear I have more trouble focusing on what I'm hearing than with my left ear.
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Old 12-30-2007, 07:46 AM
hlanelee hlanelee is offline
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Might be a hijack here but in 1995 I got a traumatic brain injury in an automobile accident. I cannot hear out of my right ear ever since.
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Old 12-30-2007, 09:58 AM
LSLGuy LSLGuy is offline
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I have some workplace anecdote that might be relevant. I used to be an airline pilot; flew Boeings for 15+ years.

The typical communications arrangement is/was the pilots wear an earbud headset on their outboard ear only. So the Captain hears all radio communications with his/her left ear, while hearing all commentary from the copilot with his/her right. The left & right sides are reversed for copilots.

When I first started training for upgrade from copilot to Captain I had a hell of a time hearing the radio. My ears tested the same, so that's not it.

More precisely, I had a hard time noticing the radio. The nature of ATC radio is listening to a continuous stream of communications not directed at you, which you pay a low level of attention to for general awareness of whats going on, then switching to paying full attention when the call is directed at you. With practice, filtering the one from the other is automatic & you perk up and direct full attention when you hear your call sign, which changes on every flight.

My automatic filter was broken, and I wasn't applying full attention until well into a call meant for us, if at all. Which was not good.

The instructors said that was a common problem that went away after a month or two, and offered some pratical tips to work through it meanwhile. And sure enough, they were right.


But it clearly shows that my brain (and many other guy's brains before me) had adapted over the years to processing different inputs from the two sides differently.
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Old 12-30-2007, 05:24 PM
Nanoda Nanoda is offline
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That's all very interesting...

Dr Katlington - I can see that the 'cocktail party' effect would work far less efficiently. I was thinking more though of how one might interpret the radio program (which contains a variety of complex content, and would be arriving 100% via one side only) rather than the specific location of cars (I'm crossing at a crosswalk and can see the cars, so that's not a great concern at that point).

LSLGuy: That might mean if I made it a habit to listen to the radio with only one earphone, and then switched, I might find myself forgetting to start listening again after commercials, say? I wonder if those people walking around with blue-tooth earpieces have similar problems.

I wonder if any industry takes this phenomenon seriously.
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  #8  
Old 12-30-2007, 07:53 PM
Abraca Deborah Abraca Deborah is offline
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In my experience (17 years as an audiologist with tons of hearing aid fitting experience) I would have to say that there is an ear advantage. Research has also proven, specifically, that there is what is called the ‘right ear’ advantage. This means that if both ears have equal hearing acuity, the ability to understand or discern speech is usually a bit easier with the right ear. The theory is that since the majority of the auditory nerve fibres cross to the opposite side where they are interpreted (assigned a meaning) and the fact that the left hemisphere has a huge receptive language area that is not represented on the right hemisphere, then that input from the right ear results in much of the information being transferred to the left hemisphere (and vice versa). So, often a patient will fare far better with a hearing aid fitted to the right ear instead of the left ear (all things being equal) but would likely do best with binaural input (two hearing aids) as we are neurologically wired so that the ears are used as a set (more or less).

As noted by Dr Katlington above, binaural hearing helps with localization and ease of listening, among other benefits (less fatigue, stereo effect, etc.). Some people are ‘right eared’ and some people are ‘left eared’ and often an informal way to find this out is to ask which ear is easier to use on the telephone (all things being equal). Most people prefer to listen with their right ear.

As for adjusting or adapting to input into the ears (as noted in the example above in the pilot/co-pilot headphone configuration), research shows that there is neural plasticity in not only young ears/brains, but in older adults as well. The degree to which the changes occur will depend on many factors, but it has been shown that even a person in later decades can experience some improvement with time when the auditory system is stimulated (listening via headphone or using a hearing aid). The best results happen when the patient is taught to actively learn to use the ‘new auditory input’ via what is called aural rehabilitation, which can vary greatly. Also, depending on age, the entire area of auditory processing (basically, what we do with what we hear) can depend greatly on age. The older we become, the more child like our auditory processing abilities can become, especially if there is long-term lack of auditory input. This is why the person who resists a hearing aid for 30 years and then finally gets one at age 95 has a challenging time adjusting due not only to age ( and associated auditory processing abilities), but due to lack of stimulation of those neural pathways for 30 years.

The brain is such an amazing, complex organ. While you did not ask, but since the OP was based on use of personal earphones/buds, the best advice of all (no matter which ear you are using!): Turn it to the left. The volume of an earphone/bud is too loud if you cannot understand speech coming from the usual conversational distance between two people. Noise induced hearing loss is a function of intensity over time, not necessarily the type of noise. Once damaged, hair cells do not regenerate.
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