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Most people believe that we listen with only our ears. The truth is, every part of your being listens. Your body listens. Your brain listens. Your emotions listen. And your spirit listens.

In my previous blog, “Cells Don’t Have Ears,” we explored how your body listens. This week we explore how your brain listens.

Miracle of Perception

drawing of an earYour brain handles the input from your ears. Your auditory system translates vibrations from your eardrum into electrical signals. Once these signals reach the auditory centres, they are translated back into sound.

Then the thinking brain enters the process to figure out what the sounds are and if any response is needed.

Your auditory system is a miracle of perception. Of all your senses, it is the most finely tuned.

In experiments on how quickly people can identify the title of a song and the band that plays it, many can do this in three to five seconds.

All sounds around you are registered by your auditory system. But we only pay attention to a fraction of the sounds around us.

This is a process called habituation. Wikipedia defines habituation as " a form of learning in which an organism decreases or ceases its responses to a stimulus after repeated or prolonged presentations. Essentially, the organism learns to stop responding to a stimulus which is no longer biologically relevant".

Dad's mantle clockEvery time my husband and I visited his parents, their clock would keep me up half the night. It was a wind-up clock that chimed the ‘Big Ben’ chime every 15 minutes. At each quarter hour it would add a little more of the chime, then the entire chime at each hour.

It actually took me a couple of nights each visit before my nervous system ‘tuned’ it out and it no longer woke me up every 15 minutes.

You may be familiar with people living near a train, who don’t even hear it anymore when it travels through the neighbourhood in the middle of the night.

The process of habituation keeps our brain and nervous system from getting over stimulated. This is essential not only to our health and wellbeing, but also to our survival.

Which ear gets your phone?

Another interesting fact is that the auditory information from each ear gets sent to the opposite side of the brain.

woman talking on the phone held up to her left ear while tying into her computerWhen your phone rings, which ear do you listen from?

Because the left side of the brain is the area that processes information more logically and linearly, most people put the phone to the right ear. There are also those who are right handed that tend to put the phone to their left ear, listening from the more intuitive, creative right side of the brain, in order to to keep the right hand free for writing.

Several studies, including one from the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, have found that 80% of the people who answer the phone with their right ear are left-hemisphere dominant, and vice versa.

Just for fun, try listening with the opposite ear.

What do you notice? Is it easier or harder to follow the conversation?

Each hemisphere of your brain interprets sound differently.

When you switch the phone to the other ear during a conversation, it means you are listening differently.

I invite you to play with this and notice how it shows up for you.


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