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Need something? Talk to my right ear!

June 23, 2009
Courtesy Springer Research Journals
and World Science staff

Most of us pre­fer to be ad­dressed in our right ear, and are more likely grant a re­quest when we re­ceive it in our right ear than our left, re­search­ers have found.

The bi­as is due to brain asym­me­try, said Lu­ca Tom­masi and Daniele Mar­zoli of Ga­bri­e­le d’An­nun­zio Un­ivers­ity in Chi­eti, It­a­ly, whose find­ings are pub­lished on­line in the re­search jour­nal Natur­wis­sen­schaf­ten.

Al­though sci­en­tists have known for a long time that the right ear is bet­ter at ab­sorb­ing spo­ken in­forma­t­ion, most past stud­ies were in con­trolled lab­o­r­a­to­ry set­tings, so there was lit­tle ev­i­dence for the phe­nom­e­non in eve­ry­day be­hav­ior, ac­cord­ing to the re­search­ers.

Tom­masi and Mar­zoli stud­ied ear pre­ference by observ­ing night­club vis­i­tors. In one stu­dy, they watched 286 rev­el­ers while they were talk­ing, with loud mu­sic in the back­ground. In to­tal, 72 per­cent of in­ter­ac­tions oc­curred on the right side of the lis­ten­er, the re­search­ers found.

In a sec­ond stu­dy, the re­search­ers ap­proached 160 club­go­ers and mum­bled some­thing mean­ing­less. They then waited for the sub­jects to turn their head and of­fer ei­ther their left or right ear. The re­searcher would then re­quest a cig­a­rette.

Over­all, 58 per­cent of­fered their right ear for lis­ten­ing and 42 per­cent their left, but only wom­en showed a con­sist­ent right-ear pre­ference, ac­cord­ing to the in­ves­ti­ga­tors. There was no link be­tween the num­ber of cig­a­rettes ob­tained and the ear re­ceiv­ing the re­quest in this stu­dy.

But in a third experiment, the re­search­ers in­ten­tion­ally ad­dressed 176 club­bers in ei­ther their right or their left ear when ask­ing for a cig­a­rette, and re­ported getting sig­nif­i­cantly more cig­a­rettes when ask­ing in the right ear than in the left.

Stim­u­li re­ceived in the right ear are pro­cessed in the left side of the brain, Tom­masi and Mar­zoli not­ed. The find­ings, they added, con­firm not only past re­search with hu­mans, but al­so with an­i­mals. “Our stud­ies cor­rob­o­rate the idea of a com­mon an­ces­try—in hu­mans and oth­er species—of lat­er­al­ized be­hav­ior dur­ing so­cial in­ter­ac­tions,” they wrote.


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We humans prefer to be addressed in our right ear, and are more likely fulfill a request when we receive it in our right ear than our left, researchers have found. The bias is due to brain asymmetry, said Luca Tommasi and Daniele Marzoli of Gabriele d’Annunzio University in Chieti, Italy, whose findings are published online in the research journal Naturwissenschaften. Although scientists have known for a long time that the right ear is better at absorbing spoken information, most past studies were in controlled laboratory settings, so there was little evidence for the phenomenon in everyday behavior, according to the researchers. Tommasi and Marzoli studied ear preference by studying nightclub visitors. In one study, they watched 286 revelers while they were talking, with loud music in the background. In total, 72 percent of interactions occurred on the right side of the listener, the researchers found. In a second study, the researchers approached 160 clubgoers and mumbled something meaningless. They then waited for the subjects to turn their head and offer either their left or right ear. The researcher would then request a cigarette. Overall, 58 percent offered their right ear for listening and 42 percent their left, but only women showed a consistent right-ear preference, according to the investigators. There was no link between the number of cigarettes obtained and the ear receiving the request in this second study. In the third study, the researchers intentionally addressed 176 clubbers in either their right or their left ear when asking for a cigarette. They obtained significantly more cigarettes when they spoke to the clubbers’ right ear compared with their left. Stimuli received in the right ear are processed in the left side of the brain, Tommasi and Marzoli noted. The findings, they added, confirm not only past research with humans, but also with animals. “Our studies corroborate the idea of a common ancestry—in humans and other species—of lateralized behavior during social interactions,” they wrote.