Can I hear you now?
January 17, 2008 3:56 PM   Subscribe

Suppose I told you I'm "left-eared". Would you get it?

I'm right-handed but I can't comprehend or make sense of what is being said on the other end of a phone conversation unless I use my left ear. People I've talked to said they use either ear and-- by the way-- you're weird. Anybody?
posted by wafaa to Grab Bag (57 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well, I really do hear better out of my left ear because the right one has been damaged from birth (actually, they both are, but the left one is less damaged). But I'd think that people without any hearing loss could use either ear.

I just say "I hear better out of my left ear" and no one ever questions that.
posted by desjardins at 3:57 PM on January 17, 2008


This very closely describes me. Speech into my right ear takes additional concentration to attend to. Speech into my left ear does not. It's never occurred to me that things might be otherwise for other people.

So yes, I'd "get it" if you used this term. Is that actually your question or did you just want to talk about the phenomenon?
posted by majick at 4:00 PM on January 17, 2008


I get it. I am right-eared. I can't hear the same way when I have the phone up to my left ear. I doubt I can't hear as well out of my left ear, though; it's probably psychosomatic.
posted by amro at 4:01 PM on January 17, 2008


I might be able to figure it out, but "I hear better out of my left ear" would be a hell of a lot more communicative.
posted by languagehat at 4:02 PM on January 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


majick, that is exactly what I wanted to know. I've also always assumed everyone was like that in some way. Concentration, exactly!
posted by wafaa at 4:02 PM on January 17, 2008


Yes! I can only talk with the phone to my right ear - if I use my left ear it's a lot harder to make sense of the sounds. I don't know if it's my brain or hearing loss.
You left ear guys are lucky - I frequently find that in loud places people will automatically talk into my left ear and I have to steer them over and over to the right in order to understand them.
posted by smartyboots at 4:04 PM on January 17, 2008


I'm right-eared.
posted by number9dream at 4:07 PM on January 17, 2008


This also describes me. Speech into my right ear takes additional concentration to attend to. Speech into my left ear does not. It's never occurred to me that things might be the same for other people.
posted by b33j at 4:07 PM on January 17, 2008


Huh. That's kinda cool/weird. I've been 100% deaf in my right ear since I knew how to communicate that I couldn't hear anything on that side (possibly since birth). Is it just speech that trips you up, or do you notice any difference in say, listening to stereo mp3's with your ear buds switched?
posted by nerdcore at 4:08 PM on January 17, 2008


Eyes, hands, feet, ears: most of us have a preference for one laterality or another. (Except for those nasty, slutty bilaterals -- BURN THEM WITH FIRE!) I'm right-handed, right-footed, left-eyed, and left-eared. And proud of it.
posted by maudlin at 4:09 PM on January 17, 2008


I might be able to figure it out, but "I hear better out of my left ear" would be a hell of a lot more communicative.

I wanted answers from people who are left-eared, because they know who they are. But thank you; your google-fu is no doubt better than mine...
posted by wafaa at 4:09 PM on January 17, 2008


I'm left-eared too! Not in the sense that I hear better out of my left ear, but in that I feel totally awkward holding the phone to my right ear.

George Bailey I'll love you till the day I die
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:14 PM on January 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also left-eared - in the Metroid Baby sense... and if you told me you were left-eared, that's what I would think. If conversation were actually unintelligible to your 'off' ear, you'd have to explain that.
posted by pompomtom at 4:17 PM on January 17, 2008


Totally get it. I'm left-eared.

Phone in my right ear = bad.
posted by Ike_Arumba at 4:19 PM on January 17, 2008


I understood it, though I've never noticed the same effects. I just prefer to hear out of my left ear.
posted by fermezporte at 4:21 PM on January 17, 2008


I'm left eared. I totally get it.
posted by Astro Zombie at 4:23 PM on January 17, 2008


Definitely left-eared here. I learn music by ear, and I turn my head so my left ear is aimed at the person I'm learning from. Learning through my right ear is somehow slow and clumsy.
posted by PatoPata at 4:24 PM on January 17, 2008


That's nutty.

Are you guys saying that you cannot hear as well out of your (left/right) ear, or that you cannot comprehend speech that primarily enters the (left/right) ear?

I'm just curious whether it's an ear thing, or a left/right brain thing.
posted by anazgnos at 4:25 PM on January 17, 2008


Ahh, interesting! I'm left-eared, too. I definitely can't switch ears—the right ear just feels weird. I can't even figure out how to properly hold the phone up on that side.

To add to the data point: left-footed; quasi–left-handed, in that I shoot a puck and basketball left, but write and mouse right; wearing jewelry on my left hand/wrist is a no-go, as it just feels too weird—still don't know how that's going to work out, wedding ring–wise; bags can only be slung over the right shoulder, as they fall off the left, although bags worn across the body must go from the left shoulder to right hip.

I've been continually surprised that other people don't necessarily have such extensive bodily preferences.
posted by limeonaire at 4:30 PM on January 17, 2008


I'm left eared but mostly because I have partial hearing loss in my right ear.
posted by konolia at 4:32 PM on January 17, 2008


It's what majick said, concentration. It takes much more effort to comprehend if you're left-eared. It has nothing to do with any hearing deficiency in your non-dominant ear.
posted by wafaa at 4:33 PM on January 17, 2008


I'm totally left-eared, and have to do the phone-hand shuffle every time I answer the phone with my right hand.
posted by goo at 4:34 PM on January 17, 2008


It's called partial deafness. Just say that.
posted by xmutex at 4:35 PM on January 17, 2008


I'd get what you mean.

To me, saying "I'm left-eared" would be totally different than saying "I hear better out of my left ear." The latter would mean, to me, that you had actual hearing loss in your right ear.

It still sounds nutty in a "I'm not sure if this is a previously unknown-to-me left brain / right brain phenomenon, or if it's a totally learned behavior and you're just not comfortable listening with your other ear because you're used to holding the phone or turning your head a certain way" way. So, which is it? :)
posted by iguanapolitico at 4:38 PM on January 17, 2008


I could say "me too!!!" but I'll take an unconventional approach and post an informative link.
posted by vacapinta at 4:39 PM on January 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


I can hear perfectly fine out of my left ear--I just can't understand a damn thing anyone says into it. I can't talk on the phone on it, and when I have tried to share a pair of earbuds with my husband (one bud for each of us), it totally doesn't work in my left ear. I cannot comprehend what I'm hearing.

My further contribution to science: I'm right-eyed (like, totally--the left one wandered when I was a kid and according to the eye doctor my brain just basically ignores any input from it), right-handed, right-footed, and left-shouldered when it comes to bags, although I think that's just a learned response (if you're right-handed, you need that arm free, so you put the bag on your left shoulder and learn to sort of hitch that shoulder up to keep it there). Also, the entire right side of my face is much more expressive than the left.
posted by Enroute at 4:41 PM on January 17, 2008


I'd get it, but only because of the Larry David show about the "lefty" phone calls.

I didn't know anyone really had this issue. :)
posted by rokusan at 4:52 PM on January 17, 2008


I understand it. On a regular phone, I hold with my left hand to my left ear (maybe so I can write with the right??) but with my cellphone or bluetooth I use my right ear.

I guess I am the odd one.
posted by 6:1 at 4:57 PM on January 17, 2008


I (and my mother and my sister) are all left-eared (and left-everything). They knew exactly what I meant when I asked them whether they were left-eared. The acuity of our hearing is just fine in both ears, but comprehension is better/easier/more comfortable through the left ear. Ignoring sound is much easier on the right side. I have to concentrate much more to understand a phone conversation when I'm holding the phone up to my right ear.
And if you google the term left-eared, there are some interesting links that treat it as just as common and well-known as handedness, footedness, and eyedness.
posted by katemonster at 4:59 PM on January 17, 2008


I don't really think there's such thing as right and left eared. There is, however, such thing as "hearing damage in one ear". Maybe y'all should see a doctor.
posted by Kololo at 5:03 PM on January 17, 2008


Actually, for some reason I handle work situations best with the phone in my left ear, and casual conversations with the phone in my right ear. So at work I use my left ear, and at home I use the right ear. My work is analytic, maybe using the left ear helps me solve problems better? No idea.
posted by veronitron at 5:04 PM on January 17, 2008


Well, I typically hold the phone to my left ear -- I have a fairly strong preference to do so -- but I've never noticed any difference in comprehension on either side. Talking into my right ear is pretty much the same as talking into my left. It doesn't take any extra effort or concentration on my part, at least not that I've noticed.

I'm right-hand dominant for most activities, but haven't really noticed any other major asymmetries.

So, no, I was entirely confused by your usage of the term 'left eared'. It makes sense when you explain it, but without the explanation, I would have been entirely mystified.
posted by Malor at 5:05 PM on January 17, 2008


Oh yes. Pressed post too fast. Since I sometimes use the left ear, what you said made sense to me.
posted by veronitron at 5:10 PM on January 17, 2008


I'm left-eared for speech just as so many of you have described.

I'm wondering what the implications are for music. I've heard of people 'flipping' the mix to work out inconsistencies produced by hearing loss but does this preference (or the difference mentioned in vacapinta's link) make a difference in where stuff is placed in the stereo field or subtle psychoacoustic effects.
posted by mutagen at 5:10 PM on January 17, 2008


I wanted answers from people who are left-eared, because they know who they are.

Well, you should have made that clearer. Your question was:

Suppose I told you I'm "left-eared". Would you get it?

And nothing in the rest of the post, as far as I can see, limits the desired sector of respondents. In any case, I now fail to understand what your question is. If you're not asking about whether the phrase "left-eared" is comprehensible, what are you asking about? (If it's just "I hear better out of my left ear, do you?" it's straight chatfilter.)
posted by languagehat at 5:25 PM on January 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'm left eared, due to hearing damage in my right ear. But I get it.

With the telephone, just a guess but, maybe you have a preference for one ear over another because you find it more comfortable to hold it in that hand. It's tricky to hold a phone to your left ear with your right hand, particularly if you need that hand to write something down. It's probably just a learned thing. You get so used to using the phone at your left ear, because you're right handed and need to keep it free to write or whatever. Over time your brain gets better at deciphering sound that is received by your left ear.

it's like if you only use your right hand for playing tennis - you're gonna have bigger muscels on that arm.

I'm right handed but wear my watch on my right wrist - just out of habit. It felt weird the first few days, but now it feels wrong to wear it on my left wrist. Same deal I guess.
posted by robotot at 5:28 PM on January 17, 2008


I'm right-eared, but I thought you were referring to hearing loss before I read the whole post. Speech can be completely incomprehensible if I have my right ear covered, and it's not due to hearing loss in my left, either. Oddly, though, it's not as much of a problem on the phone--I have to concentrate harder if I'm holding the phone to my left ear, but it's not impossible.
posted by kiripin at 5:32 PM on January 17, 2008


If you said it, I would presume that you are either partially hearing impaired or a wanker of some sort (possibly the audiophile variety). I would use other cues to determine which.

Plus what languagehat said re: transformational chatfilter.
posted by Horselover Fat at 5:32 PM on January 17, 2008


I too am left eared, but I trained myself to be that way so I could write (or play Solitare) with my right hand while listening on the phone.

I have two potential explanations- first, doesn't the brain cross sides? In that the left brain controls the right side of the body, and vice versa? But the eyes and ears are hooked directly to the side they are on. So righties would theoretically be left eared.

The other explanation might have to do with the theory that the left brain processes linearly and the right brain processes abstractly.

Or it's coincidence or habit.
posted by gjc at 5:36 PM on January 17, 2008


I'm definitely left-eared and it is a comprehension thing not a hearing thing. When I listen to music I'm bi-lateral. But when I play the guitar, I always tilt my head so that my left ear is nearer to the guitar.

I think it is an active/passive thing. When I'm in engaged in an active activity, I'm left-eared. during passive activities, I have no preference.

But, most of all, I'm glad I'm not alone. :)
posted by GregWithLime at 5:36 PM on January 17, 2008


This reminds me of a bunch of linguistics stuff. Allow me to drop some science:

Testing the effect of different stimuli presented to the left and right ears is called Dichotic Listening. One of the useful things that can be learned by dichotic listening tests is that the stimuli from each ear is treated slightly differently by the brain. Oddly enough, the general consensus is the exact opposite of what the OP and most of the commenters describe, most people are "right-eared", in that they can process language better with their right ear than their left ear.

Here is a description of this phenomenon from a linguistics site:

Dichotic listening is another experimental technique, using auditory signals. Subjects hear a different sound in each ear, such as boy in the left ear and girl in the right ear or water rushing in the left ear and a horn honking in the right ear. When asked to state what they heard in each ear, subjects are more frequently correct in reporting linguistic stimuli in the right ear (girl) and nonverbal stimuli in the left ear (water rushing.) This is because the left side of the brain is specialized for language and a word heard in the right ear will transfer directly to the left side of the body because of the contralateralization of the brain. Furthermore, the right side of the brain is specialized for nonverbal stimuli, such as music and environmental sounds, and a noise heard in the left ear will transfer directly to the right side of the brain.
posted by burnmp3s at 5:44 PM on January 17, 2008


Your link is indeed very informative, vacapinta, but those of us who've discovered the rewards of paying close attention to your comments here, and wondered about the neurological organization behind them, might have found ""me too!!!"" equally informative if you had said it, rather than that you "could say" it.

But your link deepens the surprise of wafaa's question, since it says that in addition to the better connection each ear has to the opposite hemisphere of the brain, "They [the researchers] were surprised to find that the left ear provides extra amplification for tones like music, while the right ear provides extra amplification for rapid sounds timed like speech." Leaving aside the question of what the results of a similar experiment might be among a population where tones are essential to the language, such as the Chinese, if wafaa has language on the left side of the brain, as the vast majority of people apparently do, shouldn't she prefer the right ear for language if she has a preference?
posted by jamjam at 5:47 PM on January 17, 2008


Barring a hearing loss, I would expect you to understand spoken langauge better in your right ear, and recognize the emotional content of a message and melodies better in your left ear, especially if you are right-handed. There is a well-documented right ear advantage for verbal stimuli because speech is primarily processed in and around the left temporal lobe and the most direct neural connections are crossed (right ear --> left hemisphere faster than right ear --> right hemisphere). This doesn't explain your observation, but it does go along with the informal perceptions of a lot of other people here.
posted by mimo at 5:52 PM on January 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


To sum up, the possible (but not inclusive or exclusive) options are: 1) you have a unilateral hearing loss; 2) your brain is wired in a non-standard way; 3) your observations are incorrect and we could put headphones on you and prove it.

Sorry for not completing my thought the first time.
posted by mimo at 6:05 PM on January 17, 2008


Left-eared here but it's not hearing or comprehension related. It just feels quite unnatural to hold a phone to my right ear. I'm right-handed.

Similar thing with brushing my teeth as I must use my left hand.
posted by aerotive at 6:06 PM on January 17, 2008


I'm right-handed and right-eared. I totally knew what you meant, and yeah, it's different than just having better hearing in one year.
posted by desuetude at 6:48 PM on January 17, 2008


Right-eared, and I completely agree that it is not hearing loss.

I think it is because I am right-handed, thus have been holding the phone to my right ear since I began using the phone. Thus my brain is far more accustomed to have unnatural-sounding space coming into the right ear than the left.
posted by kindall at 7:00 PM on January 17, 2008


unnatural-sounding space

"Unnatural-sounding space-free sound" I mean. In real life, you almost always can hear things with both ears; hearing speech through one ear is pretty unnatural and I would not be surprised if there were some brain plasticity involved.
posted by kindall at 7:01 PM on January 17, 2008


I know exactly what you're talking about, and I think it has to do with the hemisphere of the brain that processes the sound. I'm right ear dominant. I know a doctor who sees perfectly well out of both eyes, but cannot comprehend anything he reads with his left eye.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 7:22 PM on January 17, 2008


Also left-eared and happy to see I'm not alone.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 8:11 PM on January 17, 2008


Previously
posted by contraption at 8:29 PM on January 17, 2008


I'm right handed and left eared as well. But not always - I distinctly remember saying "hold on - switching ears." when talking on the phone as a kid. I haven't held a phone to my right ear in at least 10 years.

I also don't carry things on my right side - purses, backpacks, etc. must be held on my left shoulder, leaving my right arm free. For what, I don't know. It makes me feel safer - my theory is I was a ninja in a previous life.
posted by peep at 8:49 PM on January 17, 2008


I'm left-handed but always hold a phone or put my bluetooth to my right ear. I always assumed it was so that I could use my left hand to write notes but now that I think of it, it just "doesn't feel right" to put the phone to my left ear. Describing it as having to concentrate more would be accurate. It is well documented that we have a dominate hand, foot, and eye, so I don't see that it would be a far stretch to think we have a dominate ear as well or that the ears process information differently. It would be interesting to know if the research shows a difference for left-handed persons and which ears process speech and other sounds, etc.
posted by tamitang at 8:56 PM on January 17, 2008


(If it's just "I hear better out of my left ear, do you?" it's straight chatfilter.)
posted by languagehat


And that is exactly the reason I used "left-eared". I Googled before asking, I knew I had heard that phrase before. Considering the responses I received to my question, it appears that many of you "got it".

Thanks everyone.
posted by wafaa at 2:59 AM on January 18, 2008


I can only understand speech well in my left ear. If I put the phone in my right ear, I get very, very confused.

I probably have a tapeworm in my corpus collosum.
posted by dmd at 12:30 PM on January 18, 2008


I greatly prefer to use the phone with the left ear. I also notice the effect when listening to music. If I put my (in-ear) headphones only in the left ear, the music sounds softer and not in stereo, but it's still listenable. In the right ear only it doesn't seem to register as well, and sounds much softer, muffled and distant than in the left ear. And when both headphones are in, the music sounds normal, in stereo, with both sides sound equally loud and clear. This must be a trick of perception, because according to hearing test both ears have equally good hearing.
posted by lsemel at 3:47 PM on January 19, 2008


I start with left, but if I can't figure out WTF the person wants I move to the right. Right eyed, Left footed, Right handed, but fenced with Left hand. Don't know WTF is going on, handless earpiece goes in Left, unless driving, then it goes in Right, gets switched from ear to ear depending on who's on the other end. Yes, I understand left-eared, more and more I think I was a lefty forced into righty, I can't write with my left, but all other fine motor skill movements have slowly migrated over to the left hand side.
posted by zengargoyle at 4:34 AM on January 20, 2008


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