"Confirming what many women have long suspected, new brain research shows that men give only half a mind to what they hear, listening with just one side of their brains, while women use both."
--from a recent L.A. Times story
Come again? Only caught half of that.
It seems that at the Indiana University School of Medicine, brain scans of 10 men and 10 women indicated that the men listened mostly using the left sides of their brains, while the women used both sides. Participants wore headphones and listened to portions of John Grisham's novel "The Partner." Scientists observed blood-flow images of the study participants' brains. Increased blood flow was noted in the left temporal lobes of the men's brains. In women, both temporal lobes showed increased blood flow.
Scientists, educators and equal-rights activists applauded the startling new brain research. The study potentially can unlock mysteries that have stumped humans in modern times. Chiefly, how can female court reporters, without missing a subject or verb, transcribe a day's worth of court testimony--while a husband who is asked to bring home three items from the grocery store, forgets the milk (but is mighty proud he remembered the other two items)?
"You weren't listening," the husband might hear.
"Yes, I was," he says.
"No, you weren't."
Now, given Indiana University's findings, men can authoritatively say, "I was listening, but blood flows only to my left temporal lobe." Overcome by the sheer science of it, the wife can only shrug and ask him to bring home only two items from now on.
Besides its practical value, the research does raise ethical questions. Why did participants have to listen to "The Partner" and not "The Firm," a superior book? (An earlier and unpublished study had observed the brain scans of 10 men and 10 women as they listened to excerpts of Grisham's "The Pelican Brief." Researchers noted that all participants fell asleep.) Better yet, forget Grisham. Why not use "The Perfect Storm" or the first "Harry Potter"? But science always has its naysayers.
By studying language processing and the mental divide between the sexes, researchers have provided concrete evidence for why "Hardball's" Chris Matthews or any other male news-talk host is only half listening to his guests. Conversely, the study explains why the likes of Barbara Walters or Linda Tripp appear to listen with both lobes at full blast. Moms, too.
Inadvertently, the Indiana University research was able to solve a mystery close to home. Bobby Knight had been criticized for not listening to warnings from university officials, who preferred that the former basketball coach not grab players as if to choke them. Knight was fired for not adhering to the university's "zero-tolerance" policy. But, in point of fact, it was merely Knight's right temporal lobe that should have been fired or, at the least, fined.
The repercussions of the brain research are being felt nationwide. "Judge to Hear Gore on Ballots," read a front-page headline from one newspaper recently. Immediately, the citizenry wondered whether Leon County Circuit Judge N. Sanders Sauls intended to borrow a right lobe before "hearing" whether 1 million ballots should be counted.
A week ago Friday, the seven male justices of the U.S. Supreme Court (with seven applicable left temporal lobes) and the two female justices (two applicable right temporal lobes) heard arguments in the Florida election case. A recount of the lobe tallies was immediately requested.
Any scientific research is typically refuted or challenged by previous studies. A little-known Baltimore-based study observed this fall that only half listening to Dennis Miller on "Monday Night Football" constituted more than enough listening--or what scientists posited as "a dangerously high level of temporal exertion for any one male or lobe." In a related study, even partial listening to Ricky Martin produced depression and night sweats in laboratory mice.
In closing, Indiana University's latest brain research does not mean to suggest total listening is a good thing--just that it might help when grocery shopping.