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Men Do Hear -- But Differently Than Women

Posted on April 4, 2013 at 6:27 PM
Men Do Hear -- But Differently Than Women 

The female human ear is no different from the male human ear. Both genders' ears have the same anatomy and serve the same functions. The ears are responsible for hearing and balance. 

The outer ear picks up sound waves and transmits them through the ear canal and into the eardrum, where they vibrate. The bones in the middle ear help transfer the sounds to the inner ear, where they become nerve impulses and travel directly to the brain. 
The brain receives the nerve impulses and translates them into sounds. 

However, research conducted at the Indiana University School of Medicine may help resolve an age-old dilemma between the sexes. Men listen with only one side of their brains, while women use both, according to information on brain imaging.   

The study may add fuel to the females' argument, but researchers say the findings don't address whether women are better listeners than men.   

"Our research suggests language processing is different between men and women, but it doesn't necessarily mean performance is going to be different," said Joseph T. Lurito, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of radiology at IU School of Medicine. "We don't know if the difference is because of the way we are raised, or if it is hard-wired in the brain."   

In the study, 20 men and 20 women underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while listening to a passage from "The Partner," a John Grisham novel. A majority of the men showed exclusive activity on the left side of the brain, in the temporal lobe, which is classically associated with listening and speech. The majority of women showed activity in the temporal lobe on both sides of the brain, although predominantly on the left. The right temporal lobe traditionally is associated with non-language auditory functions. "As scientists, we're figuring out what normal is, and more and more often it seems we're finding that normal for men may be different than normal for women," said Micheal Phillips, M.D., assistant professor of radiology and co-author of the study. "That doesn't mean one is better or more capable than the other."   

The finding may help with research regarding how men and women recover from stroke and brain tumors, said Dr. Lurito. It also may help guide brain surgeons in avoiding certain areas of the brain, depending on whether they're operating on men or women, he said. "Also, scientists working on improving imaging technologies, such as fMRI and PET (positron emission tomography), need to be aware of potential gender differences," said Dr. Phillips.   

Both men and women should take care when cleaning their ears. Wipe the outer ear with a tissue or washcloth, but never insert an object into the ear, as this can cause damage. Clean earrings and earlobes regularly with rubbing alcohol.

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